12-year-old Viera chef wins state Lunchroom Wars title

Juliet Karsak won a $5,000 Florida 529 Savings Plan College Scholarship

Juliet Karsak won a $5,000 Florida 529 Savings Plan College Scholarship (Florida Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness)

VIERA, Fla. – Some kids compete on the soccer pitch or volleyball court. Juliet Karsak of Viera brings her A game in the kitchen.

In early November, the 12-year-old sixth-grader who attends Florida Virtual School took first place in the statewide Lunchroom Wars, an event hosted by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences, according to News 6 partner Florida Today.

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Almost 300 Florida students ages 7 to 13 submitted video entries through the Lunchroom Wars website this summer. The field was narrowed to three contestants who met Nov. 1-3 at the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa for an intense cook-off.

Juliet received a $5,000 Florida 529 Savings Plan College Scholarship, sponsored by Humana and Humana Healthy Horizons in Florida. Placing second, and earning a $3,000 scholarship, was Emmersyn Smith of Lakeland. Everett Allard of Wellington received a $2,000 scholarship for third place. Each of the three finalists also received a goodie bag with culinary tools from No Kid Hungry Florida, dessert from Bern’s Steakhouse, pizzas from Colony Grill and Lunchroom Wars Swag to cook with at home.

As the winner, Juliet gets to return next year as a judge.

Check out the Florida Foodie podcast. You can find every episode in the media player below:

Juliet said she was eager to enter when her mother, Melanie Karsak, told her about the competition.

“I jumped at the chance,” she said. “I love to cook.”

It’s a skill she picked up from her mother.


“I loved how her food made people feel,” Juliet said.

Juliet started cooking when she was little, her mother said.

“She’s always been excellent in the kitchen,” Melanie said. And she’s always been an adventurous eater.

“In restaurants, she was the kid who wanted to try something off everybody’s plate,” she said.

Juliet still enjoys experimenting with new flavors, though she no longer includes meat in her diet. While on a family vacation, she saw a herd of cows grazing in a roadside field. It made her sad to think about eating them.

Now she concentrates on dishes that prove eating meatless doesn’t mean living on nothing but salads.

“I like coming up with twists on dishes to make them vegetarian,” she said.

That’s what she did with the portabella bruschetta burgers she made in the competition.

The burgers, which feature baked portabella mushroom caps stuffed with pesto and Italian cheeses, were accompanied by truffle fries with a garlic and citrus aioli dipping sauce and a sweet corn and cherry tomato salad.

They were a hit. One judge, chef Dorothy Content, a social media influencer, said she enjoyed the burger so much, she didn’t miss the meat.

Juliet said the competition made her nervous at first.

“But once I got there, everybody was so nice,” she said.

The toughest part, said Melanie, was deciding what dish to make. It needed to be something a kid would enjoy, and it needed to use fresh Florida ingredients.

Juliet hopes to pursue cooking as a career.

“It’s always been my dream to go into some sort of culinary (job),” she said, “anything where I can make food for people.”

For now, she’s happy cooking once a week for her family, something her dad Erhan Karsak and brother Emre appreciate.

“I go all out,” she said. “I make a dish and, like, six sides.”

She makes bagel bombs stuffed with cream cheese, Melanie said, as well as pizzas. Oh, and she bakes, too.

“I love making key lime tarts,” she said.

They’re a hit with the family, said Melanie. “Sometimes we beg her to make it.”

Participating in the Lunchroom Wars competition and having professional chefs enjoy her cooking was affirming for Juliet’s future plans, her mother said.

For kids who love to cook, Juliet definitely recommends entering next year’s competition. Stay tuned to lunchroomwars.com for information about how to enter.

And in the meantime, here’s how to make Juliet’s award-winning mushroom burger.

Juliet’s Portabella Bruschetta Burgers

Serves 6

For the bruschetta:

5-6 large ripe tomatoes

2-3 garlic cloves

6-10 fresh basil leaves

3 green onions

5 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon fresh oregano

Salt and pepper

Large Ripe Tomatoes

For the pesto spread:

4 ounces fresh basil leaves

3-4 cloves garlic

3 tablespoons walnuts

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the burgers:

8 large portabella mushroom caps

4 cups shredded Italian cheeses mix

Olive oil drizzle (about 1/2 cup)

Salt and pepper

6 brioche burger buns

3 cups arugula

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare bruschetta

Dice the tomatoes and green onions, and mince the garlic. Combine in a medium-sized bowl.

Chop the basil and oregano and gently fold into the onion, tomato and garlic mixture.

Gently stir in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and refrigerate to marinate.

Prepare pesto spread:

Chop garlic.

Add basil, garlic, parmesan cheese, walnuts and olive oil to the bowl of a food processor.

Blend until smooth.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Prepare mushrooms:

Wash the mushroom caps, remove the stems and scrape out the gills.

Place on a nonstick sprayed baking sheet.

Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

Spread 1-2 TBS pesto inside mushroom caps.

Top mushrooms with shredded Italian Cheeses Mix cheese.

Bake 20-30 minutes at 425F. To serve, first, toast brioche buns. Place one baked portabella mushroom cap on the bottom of the brioche bun. Top with a generous portion of bruschetta. Dress with arugula and the top bun.