Twelve chefs. Three rounds. One champion.

Some of the top students in Central Texas College’s culinary arts program competed Thursday for scholarships and bragging rights in a competition that challenged their skills.

Head culinary instructor Chef Ramona Lezo said the competitors were chosen from nearly 130 students in the program based on their skills and drive to succeed in the kitchen.

With a $500 scholarship from the CTC culinary arts club for the winner and $300 for second place, the competition was fierce.

“We had a lot of interest, but we wanted to include students who worked the hardest throughout the semester,” Lezo said, explaining how the 12 contestants were chosen.

Chefs had 30 minutes to prepare an appetizer using chicken breast, couscous, puff pastry, clam juice and Pepperdoux peppers, along with other items in the pantry.

After tasting, judges chopped the contestants to seven.

Tige Brooks, Raul Rios, Madi Hinman, Guadalupe Saldivar, Yliris Finney, Mackenzie Treer and Nicholas Lindley had one hour to prepare an entree with two side dishes using pork loin, orzo, tomatoes, marshmallows and lady fingers.

Judges then chopped five more contestants, leaving Brooks and Finney to battle it out head to head in the 45-minute dessert round.

Brooks pulled out the win with oatmeal cookies topped with coconut cream and toasted pecans. Judges decided it best highlighted the three required ingredients: oats, coconut cream and dried Thai chili peppers.

Surprised by his dessert-round win over a chef with more pastry experience, Brooks said he did his best to “go with the flow” and prepared dishes in each round that made the most sense to him.

“There’s a lot of pressure not knowing what you’ll get (to cook with),” he said.

Contact M. Clare Haefner at or (254) 501-7551.

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