Thirteen-year-old Nathan Juhl of Maumelle recently won top honors in the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College’s Diamond Chef in the Rough competition.

The cupcake competition, sponsored by Hiland Dairy Foods, was a new addition to the University of Arkansas- Pulaski Tech Foundation’s annual Diamond Chef Arkansas competition, a fast-paced culinary competition between the region’s top chefs. The cupcake competition was open to students who had completed culinary training at the summer Youth Chef Camp at UA-PTC’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute.

Nathan, an 8th grader at Maumelle Middle School, attended the Level 1 and Level 2 culinary camps last summer. Since then, he has been frequently cooking dinner for his family, much to the delight of his parents, Lavonne and Jonathan Juhl, and his sisters, Lauren and Emily Kate. His specialty: beef stir fry made with minced garlic, diced green bell peppers and onions, broccoli, carrots, salt/pepper and teriyaki sauce and served over rice. But now he’s ready to branch out.

“I want to learn more about grilling and smoking meats and vegetables, and I also want to learn how to cook sea bass,” Nathan said.

When he’s not cooking at home, Nathan enjoys watches cooking shows, such as Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares and Jr. Chef.

“My favorite is Hell’s Kitchen because they have to throw together interesting dishes quickly with a variety of ingredients,” he said.

At the Diamond in the Rough competition, Nathan and the other competitors had to do just that. They were each given a themed bowl containing ingredients they were required to use to bake cupcakes before decorating. Nathan picked an Italian-themed bowl that contained roasted pine nuts, blood orange, mascarpone and Sanka instant coffee. With that, he created Olive Oil Cupcakes, and for decorations, he used red, white and green fondant to create an Italian flag to top the cupcakes. For another cupcake, he created a diamond out of fondant and sprinkled roasted pine nuts around it to symbolize the Diamond in the Rough competition.

“Nathan and all the young chefs did an amazing job coming up with creative solutions in a short amount of time,” said Shannon Boshears, executive director of the UA-Pulaski Technical College Foundation. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of them land on Chopped Junior”

One of the judges of the Diamond Chef in the Rough competition was a recent competitor on Chopped Junior, 11 year-old Ruby Jones from Conway, who placed second on the Chopped Junior episode which aired last fall.

When he’s not cooking, Nathan plays football and is on the Maumelle Middle School Archery Team. He attends New Life Church in Maumelle, and enjoys making arrowheads, volunteering at the Witt Stephens Jr. Nature Center, hunting and fishing.