Palos Verdes Peninsula teen chef to compete in New York meatball competition

Holden Dahlerbruch, a high schooler from Rancho Palos Verdes, is set to compete in a meatball competition in New York, once again against adult professional chefs. (File Photo)

PUBLISHED: March 4, 2018 at 12:47 pm | UPDATED: March 5, 2018 at 6:29 pm


Turkey meatballs can be a tough dish to conquer.


If the ingredients, measurements, cook time and temperature aren’t just right, the meatballs turn out dry and flavorless and the whole meal just becomes difficult to enjoy.


But it doesn’t have to be that way, says teen chef Holden Dahlerbruch, whose recipe for Turkey Herb Meatballs was created with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District lunch menu in mind. Dahlerbruch adhered to all the federal guidelines for food served at public schools when he started working with the district on improving its lunch program a year-and-a-half ago.



Teen chef Holden Dahlerbruch, now 17, is competing in a meatball competition in New York against professional chefs. (Courtesy Photo)


The 17-year-old Peninsula High School junior is so confident in his recipe that he’ll be in New York on Monday challenging two chefs with decades of experience on him in the Rapidfire Meatball Competition at the International Restaurant and Foodservice Show.


His recipe is the first thing he created following U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines the school district has to abide by when serving lunches to their students — which isn’t easy.


“When I have the legal ability to only use 740 milligrams of sodium in one lunch, it can be a challenge,” Dahlerbruch said.



In the summer of 2016, Superintendent Don Austin tweeted to Dahlerbruch and challenged the teen chef to help revitalize his school’s lunch menu. He then met with the food services consultant and learned all that goes into school lunches — from purchasing practices to ingredient choice.


Then he conducted a district-wide survey with students and learned there was an apparent preference for Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors. Now he leads a food subcommittee that continues to give suggestions for the school menu.


One popular change: a featured item that changes every month. In January, it was gyros and, in February, it was chili cheese dogs.


“What he’s really great at is seeing what the food trends are and hearing what fellow students are interested in eating,” said Christina Lin, director of food services for PVPUSD. “From there, we see how we can work with some of those of ideas within the nutritional guidelines.”


While Dahlerbruch has shared his recipe for marinara sauce with the district, the meatballs have yet to reach his fellow students’ plates because lunch officials haven’t figured out how to scale the recipe to serve hundreds of students.


In his recipe, he combats the dryness usually found in ground turkey by utilizing soaked bread, eggs, bread crumbs and other emulsifiers. Then he flash-fries the meatballs to get the perfect sear and throws them in the oven.


He chose turkey because people tend to shy away from it, he said, yet favor the low-fat meat.


“There’s no fat and fat is flavor,” Dahlerbruch said. “So many people don’t work with turkey and fear it and run away, but its a fun challenge and I think I’ve made it work.”


While he tweaked the recipe for the competition a bit — he reduced the amount of dried oregano and thyme and added more salt — the rest of the recipe is identical to the one for his school. In the culinary world, salt is king, so he felt the need to add it.


“I switched that up because I’m serving it to chefs,” he said. “It’s competitive suicide to go into a competition judged by professional chefs and say, ‘Here, I present to you under-seasoned turkey meatballs based on USDA regulations that don’t apply here.’”


Dahlerbruch isn’t a stranger to cooking competitions — in 2015, he competed in FYI Network’s “Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown” for two seasons. The show pits kid chef prodigies against professional adult chefs to see who can make the best dish. In that show, the prize was merely for bragging rights; in this competition, the winner gets $1,000 and is crowned the New York Restaurant Show Rapid Fire Champion.


Holden Dahlerbruch, a high schooler from Rancho Palos Verdes, was a contestant on “Man vs. Child: Chef Showdown” in 2015. Now he’s competing in a meatball competition in New York (File Photo by Robert Casillas / Daily Breeze)


Dahlerbruch will be competing against two restaurant owners and professional chefs.


Rafaela Gois Cabede Lopes, chef and owner of Mrs. Potato Restaurant in Orlando, Florida, will make her Maroon Meatballs in the 20-minute live competition. George Giotsas, chef and owner of Little Mark’s Big BBQ in Vernon, Connecticut, will make his Horiatikes Keftedes, which are Greek Village-style meatballs.


All three qualified for the competition after getting the most online votes out of dozens of other chefs nationwide.


The competition is live on stage at the New York Restaurant Show on Monday afternoon.


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