Gaby Santa Cruz, a senior at Hood River Valley High School, brought home two grand champion prizes from the Oregon State Fair this summer, in Food Presentation and Sewing competition.
This was Santa Cruz’s third year competing in Food Presentation at the Oregon State Fair, where competitors have an hour to prepare a dish of their choosing in front of a judge.
After baking Irish soda bread in 2014 and strawberry muffins in 2015, Santa Cruz decided to make a chicken white-garlic pizza this year, even though she “didn’t know how to make pizza before.” To practice, she prepared the dish multiple times for her family and 4-H leader.
“Anything can go wrong,” Santa Cruz says of cooking in front of a judge. Though her pizza sauce didn’t want to thicken at first, and her dough wasn’t the right consistency, she used her knowledge from years of cooking to problem-solve and serve the judges an award winning dish.
Santa Cruz, a member of the Mount Hood 4-H club, learned to cook from her mom, and together they would prepare enchiladas, tamales, and other traditional Mexican foods. Santa Cruz is happy to be able to pass on the traditions from her heritage.
For the Food Presentation competition, Santa Cruz also had to learn the proper methods for measuring ingredients and disinfecting her work area, and then show these techniques to the judges.
She now practices her baking with her 4-H sewing and baking leader, Nancy Lunt.
“She helps me find a recipe and practice it, and she helps younger members who want to do the competition.” Lunt mentored Santa Cruz for her grand champion sewing project, where she took an old FFA jacket and turned it into a pillow without patterns or directions.
Santa Cruz says her “skills in cooking and baking have increased greatly,” after competing in Food Presentation, as well as her problem solving skills.
For her final year of this competition, she is considering preparing a Mexican dish to try something different.
Santa Cruz is interested in a career as an agriculture teacher and 4-H leader. She looks forward to teaching other 4-H kids in the future.