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UC Merced’s Chef Jonathan Gutierrez Santiago Wins 3rd Annual CASA Chef Cookoff

March 13, 2024
Chef Santiago holding his trophy and a brand new box of knives
Executive Sous Chef Jonathon Gutierrez Santiago is approaching his three-year anniversary with UC Merced.

In an impressive display of his culinary capabilities, Executive Sous Chef Jonathon Gutierrez Santiago was crowned champion of the 2024 CASA Chef Cookoff. With a team of fellow UC Merced staff members, Chef Anthony Pangelina, Chef Lucas Ho, David Ruiz Sanchez and Ashley Charro, Santiago competed in live cooking competitions against six other Central Valley chefs on March 2 in Clovis. Dishes were judged and voted upon by event attendees.

Held annually, the CASA Cookoff is a fundraiser sponsored by CASA of Fresno and Madera counties, an organization that provides services to foster youth in the Central Valley.

Santiago’s winning dish, a bulgogi turkey burger, was a fusion of Korean and Central Valley flavors inspired by the sustainable, locally sourced ingredients served by UC Merced’s Dining Services. The burger featured slider buns from Fresno, regeneratively raised turkey from Sanger and vegetables provided by UC Merced’s local BIPOC farmer program.

“Be great,” he told his team before the event.

Santiago credits his victory to a competitive drive, a winner’s mentality and his team. Between food preparation, serving dishes and passing out flyers, he says this win would not be possible without the support of his team.

Santiago is approaching his three-year anniversary with UC Merced, joining the university from the private dining sector, and attributes his success to his culinary mentors. His first task on campus was re-opening the Yablokoff-Wallace Dining Center, closed for nearly two years. He is an active member of the Monterey Bay chapter of the American Culinary Federation, serving as co-chair of the Sustainability and Green Initiative. His commitment to providing the campus community with better quality foods and inclusive menu items is exemplified through his work. Santiago grows 18 different fruits, vegetables and herbs in Elizabeth’s Garden on campus and is responsible for introducing the halal menu in both dining halls.

Santiago and his crew previously competed in the “Burgers and Brews” cookoff sponsored by the city of Merced. He invites everyone to attend their next event; an ASUCM and Dining Services sponsored farmers market March 13

Alyssa Johansen

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