Longwood Boy Places Second in Inaugural Cooking Competition
by PAUL CATALA
Nathaniel Forkin could’ve made the recipe easier by simply going to the supermarket and buying a box of pre-made lasagna noodles.
But instead, the 9-year-old Longwood boy chose to meticulously make the noodles from scratch using flour, eggs, water, parchment paper and a roller.
It was partly due to his determination to get cookin’ his own way that helped Nathaniel earn a second-place finish in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ 2021 Lunchroom Wars. The inaugural cooking competition was open to any Florida resident ages 7 to 13 and was designed “to uplift culinary aspirations and highlight Florida commodities,” according to the Department of Agriculture.
Nathaniel’s qualifying round entry in March was strawberry shortcake with edible flowers, with judges basing that entry on appearance, presentation, creativity and use of Florida produce.
For the first competition, Nathaniel submitted a video, and the top three recipes were chosen in April. For the second round, he submitted another five videos showing him going through all the steps of buying and preparing ingredients before cooking his recipe.
Cooking under the moniker “Chef Nano,” he then had two weeks to put together his recipe for the online final round, a cheesy lasagna dish he called “Layers for Champions.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lunchroom Wars finale took place virtually, and each of the finalists submitted videos of their recipes that showcased Fresh from Florida produce.
From his home in Longwood where he lives with his mother, Catalina Bohorquez, and stepfather, Bas Nijmeijer, the Altamonte native says he found out May 27 that he took second place out of about 300 entries in the Lunchroom Wars and received a $3,000 Florida 529 Savings Plan from Humana, an investment account to save money for college.
He credits his stepdad for inspiring his interest in the culinary arts.
“It was Bas. He was the one who inspired me to cook. He was the cook in the kitchen, now I’m the cook in the kitchen,” said Nathaniel, who will start fourth grade in the fall.
Nathaniel says he decided to enter the competition after he saw an online advertisement for Lunchroom Wars while looking up recipes. After his selection to go onto the final round, he says he visited Bekemeyer Family Farm in Winter Garden to get ingredients broccoli, tomatoes, basil, green peppers and cherry tomatoes for the lasagna.
Along with homemade parmesan cheese-laced tomato sauce and ground beef, Nathaniel — who attends Saba Point Elementary School in Longwood — spooned the ingredients onto his homemade noodles.
“It is fun to make the noodles when you put them through the smoother. You get to get a workout by spinning it over and over and over again,” he notes about the noodle-making process.
Nathaniel says he likes cooking so much he regularly cooks for fun, citing pasta carbonara and fettuccini from scratch as two of his favorite recipes.
Paula Kendrick, the Lunchroom Wars host and chef for the Food, Nutrition & Wellness Division – says she was impressed with the variety in Nathaniel’s recipes, using fresh vegetables from a local farmer’s market, the homemade pasta and sauce.
“It’s so refreshing to see such young talent finding a passion for cooking and learning about Florida’s commodities,” she says.
Nathaniel is also finding cooking success in front of a camera. He co-stars in a YouTube series “Cook and Learn with Baba and Nano,” in which he encourages children to learn to cook. He’s also in a show produced through Seminole County government in which he highlights local restaurants. Filming for the series began June 8.
As for her son sauteing in the limelight, Bohorquez calls Nathaniel “inventive” in his pastimes.
“He’s very creative, he loves color. He’s been doing a lot of tie-dye baking, experimenting with different things and combining different flavors,” she says.
In addition to cooking, Nathaniel says he enjoys drawing, playing soccer and swimming. But it’s food that really gets Nathaniel’s creativity boiling. He says he hopes to someday host his own cooking TV or online show, visiting foreign countries and delving into their cooking styles and recipes.
“I have fun, and I tell people, ‘If a 9-year-old can do it, anyone can do it,’ ” he says.
Special guest judges for Lunchroom Wars were Shacafrica Simmons “Chef Shac,” the Food Network’s “Chopped Champion”; Gianna Rivera, 2017-18 “Fresh from Florida Student Chef Cook-Off” champion; and Daniel Thompson III, a chef and runner-up in the 2021 Lunchroom Wars competition.
The other winners of the 2021 Lunchroom Wars were
- First Place/$5,000 scholarship — Isaiah Romeo, 13, Glades Middle School, Miramar
- Third Place/$2,000 scholarship — Amina Khan, 10, Beacon Cove Intermediate Elementary, Jupiter
Nathaniel’s cooking videos can be found at “Cook and Learn with Baba and Nano” on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.