Juwan Rice Competition

Juwan Rice slices through fresh produce at the kitchen at Cafe St. Louis by Pure Friday.

ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com)— A Parkway North graduate may be the youngest chef in his kitchen, but his talents earned him bragging rights in the local culinary community — and soon in the Lone Star State.

Tracing his culinary roots back to the age of 6, Juwan Rice has been in and out of the kitchen alongside his grandmother. Acting as her sous chef, the 20-year-old recalls helping her prepare a hearty Thanksgiving meal as one of his first creations.

“My family is always gathered around with food which is like our cultural thing that we have. And that grew into what it is now,” Rice said hinting at his current business venture. At 14, the St. Louis native ran his own catering and private dining company, JR Gourmet. Rice crafted business cards to hand out to potential clientele while cranking on the oven to cook at catering events.

After graduating high school, he worked at Bait in the Central West End where he began as a pastry chef but slid into the role as the executive sous chef. He cooked with food industry masterminds Ceaira Jackson and Ty Davis. His biggest takeaway from the experience was staying true to his expertise.

“Always stay in your own creativity no matter what influence others may have on you. People can’t interpret your creativity the way you can,” Rice said.

Soon his creativity and craft started attracting attention. He received praise from local publications such as Feast and Sauce Magazine. He was even named one of the top 10 chefs that the public should keep their eye on. In September 2021, he faced off against eager young chefs during Guy’s Grocery Games where he finished in second place.

“It was an amazing opportunity. The connections I was able to build with the producer and contestants ... we still have those relationships. I’ll actually collab with those contestants in the next few months,” he said.

When questioned what his ideal cooking style is, Rice didn't hesitate by answering with fusion cuisine. Food fusion is the art of combining different culinary traditions from different cultures into one dish.

“I don’t really try to stay in one field. Whether its soul food or Asian cuisine, I like to mix them together. That is what makes my food unique,” he said. “I like to take my time and slow things down to add that extra finesse with certain things I do.”

And the JR Gourmet finesse boils down to his presentation.

“I learned at young age that people eat with their eyes first. So that is the hook that will bring people in,” Rice continued. “So, one of my staples is to include local microgreens with whatever I do. That’s my little finesse. My little Salt Bae on top of the dish.”

The 20-year-old strives to incorporate ingredients from local St. Louis vendors and businesses. In August, Rice utilized his vendor list when he competed in the Show Me Series competition, battling against well-known area cooks. Despite feeling like an underdog, his team’s locally sourced burger brought in the win and secured a spot at the World Food Championships in Dallas, Texas.

“We really came in as the underdogs, but I had such a dynamic team helping me. I had Deva Williamson who has been on Food Network numerous times and my mixologist Jorge [Vasquez] who has Latin roots. His flavors are incredible.”

Despite feeling like an underdog, his team’s locally sourced burger brought in the win and secured a spot at the World Food Championships in Dalla, Texas.

His winning burger was topped with a brioche bun coated with chimichurri aioli, and paired with double cream gouda, bacon fat-fried rice paper, wagyu beef and a microgreen slaw.

“Everything on that burger was local. The bun from La Bonne Bouchée to the cheese from a local wine and spirit store in Chesterfield,” he said describing his winning dish.

Now, Rice will be heading to Dallas to compete against several chefs next Saturday to win $100,000 and other prizes. Although he was tightlipped on what he will presenting to the judges, he ensured he will showcase flavors and elements from the Gateway to the West. To support Rice’s journey to Dallas, you can donate here.

The event will be broadcasted live on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.

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