Fort Worth — A love of cooking and years of experimenting in the kitchen have paid off for Niko Laohoo, a Bear Creek Intermediate sixth-grader and the winner of the Keller ISD Future Chefs cooking contest.“I like how it’s so flexible, and you can try so many different things, and if you know the right ingredients, you can make almost anything,” Niko said.Fifteen finalists from intermediate schools across the district created salad recipes and made their dishes at a cooking contest March 27 in the cafeteria at Timber Creek High School. The fourth annual event was sponsored by Sodexo, the district’s food service provider.For the contest, Niko created an Asian chicken salad that included dry ramen noodles, mandarin oranges and sesame seeds.Culinary talent runs in the family. Niko is the younger brother of Lorenzo Laohoo, who won the National Future Chefs contest last year as a seventh-grader at Keller Middle School. Lorenzo was on hand at the contest to assist the younger chefs.Mom, Jennifer Laohoo, said that Niko and Lorenzo have been cooking together for many years, usually with the younger brother acting as a sous chef, or assistant.When left to his own devices, Niko is creative, Jennifer Laohoo said.“He is a big experimenter,” she said. “He will do some things that sometimes we can’t eat.”Other times, his creations turn out great. He often will make a dish he has eaten at a restaurant and tweak it to make it something he likes better, Jennifer Laohoo said.A total of 47 KISD students entered this year’s competition. Out of the 15 finalists, five won top awards in different categories.As the winner of the Judges’ Choice Award, Niko advances to the next round of the Future Chefs contest. During the month of March, Sodexo sponsors 126 cooking events in 28 states. More than 1,300 kids participate.In early April, Sodexo chefs narrow down the winning entries to 27 regional finalists. Company officials then pick their top five national finalists. Those students make their creations on YouTube videos that are posted on the company website. The video entry that receives the most votes wins the top honor.Last year, Lorenzo’s classmates and teachers helped him come from behind during the final days of voting to win for his fried rice breakfast dish.Chris Maggard, Keller’s director of child nutrition, said, “So many kids excel in so many areas, but this is not sports or music. This is a place where kids who are good in the kitchen can work with their parents and develop a recipe and get recognition.”Paul Bresnahan, a vice president with Fujitsu, was a first-time judge in the Keller district event. He was impressed with how young many of the chefs began cooking and with their dedication to the culinary craft.“There was a lot of originality there in the ways that they have chosen to express themselves,” Bresnahan said.Thaddeus Lloyd, a fifth-grader from Chisholm Trail Intermediate who won the award for Kid-Friendly Preparation, said he got his idea for his “Pepperoni Explosion” salad while eating pizza in the cafeteria.“I thought why not have pepperoni and other things you normally see on a pizza in a salad?” Thaddeus said.The drive to create culinary masterpieces is not without its risks.“I’ve always liked to cook, but sometimes my parents get mad at me when I cook things without asking,” said Emily Lopez, a sixth-grader at South Keller Intermediate.Rayla Williams, mom of cooking competitor Alexis Clevenger from Parkwood Hill Intermediate, said her daughter’s favorite show is “Emeril,” the Food Network show featuring Emeril Lagasse, the famous New Orleans chef.Williams recently had a migraine and Alexis made her a green smoothie. She was reluctant to drink it, but said it actually tasted good.Alexis said she has been cooking since she was 3.“I want to cook for fun and for a living,” she said.