A San Diego teenager made her first mark on the culinary world today, emerging from the heat of the kitchens at The Art Institute of Dallas as the “Best Teen Chef 2007.” Amanda Nuñez of Rancho Bernardo, Calif. won the national competition, hosted by The Art Institutes, becoming the eighth student to lay claim to the title since the inaugural competition in 2000. Alex Konopacky of Plover, Wisc. and Lara Pullin of Fate, Texas earned second- and third-place honors.
Twenty-three high school seniors from across North America sliced, diced, and sautéed their way through a grueling two-hour competition under the watchful eyes of The Art Institutes’ Master Chef faculty and former White House Executive Chef, Walter Scheib, in pursuit of more than $250,000 in tuition scholarships to study the culinary arts at The Art Institutes. In addition to the title, Nuñez won a full tuition scholarship to The Art Institute of California San Diego, worth more than $40,000.
Open to high school seniors across the U.S. and Canada, The Best Teen Chef Competition was created to recognize, encourage and reward exceptional culinary talent at the high school level.
Competitors were judged on cleanliness, taste, presentation, and more. This year’s menu was designed to satisfy a Texas-sized appetite, featuring Tortilla Soup, Starburst Grapefruit Salad, Pork Medallions and Arroz a la Mexicana. All contestants prepared the same menu and were judged on the same criteria.
Nuñez, a senior at Rancho Bernardo High School, used to be a picky eater before she fell in love with cooking.
“I wouldn’t eat fish, no vegetables, only Jack in the Box hamburgers,” she says. That was before the senior fell in love with cooking. Inspired by her mother’s creativity in the kitchen, Nuñez began to appreciate the craft of cuisine. She became an avid fan of the Food Network and began emulating what she saw on the small screen.
Inspired by her mother’s creativity in the kitchen, Amanda began to appreciate the craft of Italian cuisine. She prefers to prepare innovative creations while experimenting with unique ingredients. As for her favorite dish to prepare, Amanda loves anything involving pasta.
Amanda also attributes her success to her appreciation of learning and delight in experimentation. “I like learning everything I can,” she says.
While juggling school work as well, Nuñez has worked three nights a week as a pastry and pantry prep chef at a local Italian restaurant, being responsible for the preparation of pizzas, salads and desserts.
Chef Michael Nenes, Assistant Vice President of Culinary Arts for The Art Institutes, said, “Each year, the caliber and talent of the students who compete for the title of Best Teen Chef becomes more impressive. The competition’s history has shown us that to get this far, these students have already demonstrated that they are talented chefs. The key to Best Teen Chef competiton, however, is to come with your game face on and be ready to out-cook the competition. Training, focus and determination all qualities of the most successful chefs - are paramount. Amanda distinguished herself throughout the competition, and all of the judges were very impressed with her excellent culinary skills and focus under pressure.”