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Children compete for best Cuban sandwich in annual festival

TAMPA — Hali Goldstein, 13, didn’t taste the sandwich she served judges Saturday at the Cuban Sandwich Festival.

She doesn’t eat ham or salami, and since she is observing Passover she wouldn’t eat the leavened bread either. But she did try the marinated brisket she slow cooked from last night to this morning.

Hali, who considers herself more of a pastry chef than a sandwich artist, hoped that this modified Cuban would push her over the top in the "Kid’s Smackdown" cook off.

"There is just way too much pig in a traditional Cuban," she said.

Hali and 12 other children, between 5 and 17 years old, competed in the sandwich contest held a day before the adult cook-off.

The children’s contest was organized by Junior Chefs of America, a non-profit which tutors children on academics and teaches them to cook. This is the second year the children’s cook-off was held during the Cuban Sandwich Festival. The seventh annual celebration of the sandwich continues from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday at 1320 E Palm Ave.

RELATED: Cuban sandwich fest in Ybor aims to clear palate of Arby’s fast-food version

One of the judges for the children’s contest, Ilya Ben Goldberg, chef and owner of Stone Soup Company in the Ybor City district, said he was impressed with some of the sandwiches he tried.

"Some of them were as good as people I’ve competed with here," he said. Goldberg’s Cuban sandwich has won in several categories at the adult competition. While many hold strict beliefs about what is and is not in a Cuban sandwich, Goldberg said he appreciated the creativity of the children.

"These kids are throwing in some very interesting things into the sandwich that I think work for a non-traditional take," he said.

La Segunda Central Bakery and Boar’s Head donate the meat, bread and other ingredients, though the children are allowed to bring their own.

Twelve-year-old Isabella Cain brought her own butter, pickles, mustard and two pieces of pork tenderloin seasoned differently for a traditional and non-traditional sandwich.

"I feel like I got a better chance with our pork," she said. "I don’t want to put pickles in the sandwich because I don’t like them. But I guess I have to."

One of the youngest chefs in the contest was 7-year-old Mila Gainers, who took first place last year. She competed in 2016 and got first place in her age group.

Gainers makes the entire sandwich herself and only needs her parents to cut it and heat it on the press, said her mother, Sandra Gainers, 41.

"She’s been practicing all week. We’ve eaten Cuban sandwiches three times in the last few days," the child’s mother said.

Gainers’s sandwich, however, placed second this year. Goldstein placed third in her first year competing. And first place went to 14-year-old Phillip Barrington, III. He attributed his success to the slow-cooked turkey and onions he added and his "secret sauce."

Although Phillip enjoyed the sandwich he made, he said he one day hopes to open a seafood restaurant.

"My favorite thing to cook are mussels," he said.

On the other side of the festival, two dozen volunteers worked to make the largest Cuban sandwich in the world. When completed it was about 162 feet long, said Jolie González Padilla, who organizes the festival with her husband, Victor Padilla.

Some 160 pounds of ham, pork, salami and swiss cheese were needed to complete the endeavor, said Brad Henningsen, owner of West Winds Provisions Inc., which is a wholesaler of Boars Head.

Several hundreds of pickles and about three gallons of mustard were used, but not a drop of mayonnaise, said Henningsen.

"Really there should be mayonnaise in it. But Victor said, ‘No way, that’s not how you make a Cuban’," Henningsen said.

Contact Jonathan Capriel at 813-225-3141 or [email protected] Follow @jonathancapriel.

     
 
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