Chopping the competition: senior boys compete in high-stakes cook-off


Maria Newton

Seniors Stephen Zhao, Andrew Li, Caleb Canatoy, Joaquin Rendon and Noah Wright work in teams to create tasty dishes for a cooking competition, judged by seniors Maria Newton and Harper Stewart. The boys, also including seniors Tony Galanti, Paul Gipkhin and Umer Mallick, raced against the clock and each other to avoid the losers’ punishment of having some hair waxed off. “Having a friendly competition drove me to try my hardest so that my friends could be impressed,” Li said.

The stove was hot and the kitchen began filling with smoke. Eight senior boys ran frantically about the small space in search of utensils and ingredients. Two senior girls, Maria Newton and Harper Stewart, hosted a cooking competition based on the television series “Chopped” April 13 to help the senior boys brush up on their cooking skills before college. The contest had two rounds, each with its own specific ingredients and requirements. The punishment for the losing team was a waxing session in an area of their choice.

“What really brought the most anxiety was the idea of being waxed,” senior Joaquin Rendon said. “I completely forgot about that when I first entered the house, and I was reminded about halfway through the first round. It really brought my drive back up.”

The first challenge featured a basket with chicken, three eggs, an onion and jalapeño Cheez-Its. All ingredients had to be used, and each of the three teams had 45 minutes to produce one entrée. Team one included seniors Andrew Li, Umer Mallick and Stephen Zhao. Team two was seniors Paul Gipkhin, Joaquin Rendon and Noah Wright and team three was seniors Caleb Canatoy and Tony Galanti.

“I really wanted to show off my cooking skills, honestly, and that didn’t work out,” Rendon said. “I really [was thinking] ‘hey, let’s have some fun, let’s not get third place.’”

With 10 minutes left on the clock, the amateur chefs were given an option: they would be permitted 10 extra minutes if they incorporated a pickle in their dish.

I enjoy cooking, and I thought it was a fun and good opportunity to cook for my friends,”

— Andrew Li

“It was super stressful, especially since I was on a team of two and everyone else had three, but it was also super fun,” Galanti said. “I was almost always laughing or smiling.”

After the first buzzer, Li, Mallick and Zhao’s team was in the lead. They created a Cheez-It crusted chicken breast on a bed of cheesy pasta with a sauce containing eggs and onions. They added fried pickles on top for the extra time.

“I enjoy cooking, and I thought it was a fun and good opportunity to cook for my friends. I guess you could say my team was in a pickle [with the pickle challenge],” Li said. “Going through my mind the whole time was to finish on time and present a great dish. Also, I didn’t want to risk whether or not the judges like pickles or not, so we fried it because everyone likes anything fried.”

Challenge two was a donut contest. The teams had to fight over one mini donut maker and make a sweet pastry that included fruit in some way.

“[My favorite part was] probably bringing the food downstairs [to the judging station] and seeing everyone’s food,” Rendon said. “Especially Caleb’s and Tony’s [donuts]. Good ol’ donuts just floating in icing. It looked gross, and it made me feel confident. Definitely wasn’t going to lose at that point.”

Again, Li, Mallick and Zhao came out on top. Their chocolate covered donuts with a raspberry compote won over the judges.

“It felt amazing to be at the top going into the second round. Everyone did great, and the fact that we came out on top made me impressed with my team,” Li said. “Although we won the first round, there were still plenty of mistakes, so we didn’t want to slack off on the next round. In fact, we used that win to push ourselves and carry that momentum with us.”

The losing team, composed of Canatoy and Galanti, were sent outside while the wax heated. A chunk of hair was taken from Galanti’s leg and from Canatoy’s chest.

“I was really scared. When [I was being waxed there was] building anticipation, and everyone was saying how much it would hurt. [The wax] was really warm and honestly kind of relaxing, but then [the paper was put on], and it went from relaxation to a big panic,” Canatoy said. “It felt like my chest was on fire or I got stung by a bunch of wasps.”

Rendon also voluntarily got waxed on his stomach.

Even though my team lost and my leg hair still hasn’t grown back, I would totally do it again because it was an awesome experience,”

— Tony Galanti

“It was just for the experience. I knew it wasn’t something I was ever going to do again,” Rendon said. “I have a few ingrown hairs now, but it was still fun.”

With college approaching, the boys realized they are going to have to refine their cooking skills.

“I grew up privileged to just come home to dinner every night. I never really had to think about my next meal. However, going off to college and beyond, I’m suddenly in charge of my own food, and, given I’ve never really had that experience before, learning to cook at least a little bit will be really important,” Galanti said. “Even though my team lost and my leg hair still hasn’t grown back, I would totally do it again because it was an awesome experience.”