CATTARAUGUS — Like a musician with the natural ability to
play a piano by ear, Juan Ortiz can create a sensational new recipe by simple
experimentation. And like a pianist playing the next great piece of music,
Ortiz’s creations can be delicious masterpieces in themselves.
Recently, the 17-year-old senior from Cattaraugus-Little Valley competed
in the Mark Twain Chili Cook-Off, which was part of the Buffalo Winterfest
activities on February 6. Matched up against five opponents from Buffalo,
Ortiz’s “JR’s Home Grown Chili” finished second in the competition.
“I was just really there for the fun of it,” Ortiz said. “Because I think
cooking is fun.”
Ortiz’s interest in cooking and his technique of shying away from cookbooks
and making dishes by a trial-and-error method began about five years ago.
“My first cooking experience was when I made scrambled eggs and I experimented
with a whole bunch of spices,” Ortiz said. “My mom was not too pleased when
she found out I put garlic powder in the eggs.”
But the experimenting with dishes hasn’t ceased. It doesn’t matter if
it’s a simple grilled cheese sandwich or an elegant chicken dinner, Ortiz
said he tries different spices and additions to the meals to, as famous
chef Emeril Lagasse might say, “kick it up a notch.”