As one team from Tuscaloosa makes a championship run on the gridiron, another team with ties to The University of Alabama is getting ready to take on thousands in the largest competition in food sport.
Jon Turner, a UA graduate student studying hospitality management, will partner with University Club Executive Chef Cherri Koester to represent Team Alabama in the World Food Championships this week in Orange Beach. The two will battle close to 1,500 chefs from around the world for more than $350,000 in cash and prizes, the biggest payout in food sport history.
“I don’t think I can put into words how much it means to compete in this event,” said Koester. “It’s a privilege to be among this group of chefs.”
Although the two have only worked to prepare for the event over the past few weeks, both bring years of experience to the competition. Their love of cooking started at an early age with the help of their families.
Koester’s kitchen experience started as a young girl when her mother opened a small deli. Koester was able to help in the kitchen and quickly developed a passion for cooking. She credits her mother for being her biggest influence.
“My mother was an amazing cook,” said Koester. “I guess it’s in our blood.”
For Turner, his love of cooking started on his grandparent’s farm. Although he loved the farm-to-table style of preparing meals as a child and worked in several restaurants throughout high school and college, he chose a different career path than most who end up in the culinary world.
Turner, who is a former UA cheerleader and Big Al, earned his law degree and practiced for more than 20 years. After retiring from his law career in 2014, he decided to pursue his passion for cooking and has since earned several culinary degrees. Turner loves to work with children who have an interest in cooking and does anything he can to develop their skills.
“I try to bring up our future chefs and there are so many of them,” said Turner. “Some of these kids are so much more talented than I could ever dream of being.”
The World Food Championships will be the largest competition for Koester and Turner, and both are excited for the challenge ahead. The two will prepare several burgers for the burger competition, including what is called a “Juicy Lucy,” which is a burger infused with cheese. Their submissions will be judged on appearance, taste and execution.
Koester and Turner are excited that competition week has arrived and look forward to expanding their food options once it is over.
“We’ve tested so many burger options over the past few weeks,” Turner said while laughing. “I probably won’t eat a hamburger for a very long time.”