North Fork teen chefs compete in cook-off competition

Chris Johnson of CJ's American Grill in Mattituck gives teens a cooking demonstration. (Credit: Claire Leaden)

Chris Johnson of CJ’s American Grill in Mattituck gives the teens a cooking demonstration. (Credit: Claire Leaden)

To make a unique and tasty burger, Chef Ethan Smith likes to pack ground beef patties with cHarissa, the popular Moroccan spice made at a commercial kitchen in Cutchogue.

“It is a cumin-based spice that’s actually local,” the Mattituck High Schooler said last week, after whipping up the creation he dubbed the “tried-and-true” burger. “We grilled them, put Swiss [cheese] on them and then we grilled tomatoes and put those on with some lettuce.”

But Ethan isn’t an apprentice working in the kitchen of one of the North Fork’s fine dining establishments.

He was one a half dozen students in the inaugural teen cook-off at Mattituck High School on July 17. The event was sponsored by non-profit community group The North Fork Alliance Youth Advisory Council.

“[We] come up with activities that aren’t based around drugs and alcohol,” said Laura Smith, an NFA member who helped spearhead the Youth Advisory Council this June. “We’re trying to show kids that they can have fun without those things.”

The young chefs were informed that their burgers would be judged on taste, appearance, and originality using a 100 point scoring system. The three judges all hailed from local restaurants—Marc Lamaina, owner of Lucharitos in Greenport; Cindy Halloran from the North Fork Table and Inn in Southold; and Erin Johnson, co-owner of Fork and Anchor in East Marion.

“The ratio of the bun to the meat to the lettuce and tomato is important so things aren’t overpowering,” Johnson told the novice chefs.

The six teens assembled their burgers and grilled in groups of two.

Madison Kent and Lisa Angell's finished product--hamburger sliders in lettuce cups. (Credit: Claire Leaden)

Madison Kent and Lisa Angell’s finished product, hamburger sliders in lettuce cups. (Credit: Claire Leaden)

“It’s kind of exciting,” Mattituck High School student Leah Santacroce said as she caramelized onions for an Italian-style burger topped with fresh mozzarella and tomato. “I’ve never done this before.”

Madison Kent and friend Courtney Benediktsson, both of Mattituck High School, decided to put their sliders in lettuce cups in lieu of hamburger buns.

“She thought of the lettuce cups first, and then I like hot sauce so we added that on the side,” Courtney said. “And then we put the blue cheese on to offset the hot sauce.” 

Connor Smith and Ethan Smith, who are not related and both from Mattituck, followed a more traditional recipe with their cHarissa-infused burger, the “tried-and-true.”

Their classic burger came out on top, followed by the lettuce-cup sliders in second place and the Italian burger in third. Each group took home a trophy and gift certificates to CJ’s American Grill and Uncle Joe’s Pizza.

“All three ideas were really inventive and inspired,” Johnson said when revealing the winners. “It was cool how unique each one was. It was a close race.”

The Youth Advisory Counsel’s next meeting is Wednesday, July 23 at 5:30 p.m. at Mattituck Library. Any student from Southold Town is welcome to attend. They will be planning out the next two chosen events—a ping-pong tournament and a scavenger hunt.