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West Forsyth grad in cookoff for Super Bowl
West Forsyth High School graduate Cullen Folks, right, and teammate Matthew Johnson are finalists in this weekend’s PepsiCo Game Day Grub Match through The Culinary Institute of America. - photo by For the FCN

On the Net

To follow Cullen Folks’ and Matthew Johnson’s Super Bowl experience, go to:

* Twitter: @cfolks27 or @Matthew12345j

* Instagram: @cullen_reigh or @Matthew 12345j

* YouTube: BrainFood at

* Contest website:

FORSYTH COUNTY — A Forsyth County high school graduate is set compete at Super Bowl XLIX, but she won’t be on the field. She’ll be at the pre-parties, concocting something millions of viewers find vital to the Sunday experience: the game day menu.

Cullen Folks is a finalist in the PepsiCo Game Day Grub Match through The Culinary Institute of America, where she is a sophomore.

The competition pits two-person teams against each other to create the best football finger-food using at least three PepsiCo products.

Instead of a trophy, a ring and a lot of confetti, Folks and her teammate, Matthew Johnson of Duluth, Minn., may each win a ticket to the big game, a $5,000 scholarship and — who knows — maybe a lot of confetti.

Folks, a 2013 graduate of West Forsyth High, said she wanted to “take something from the South and put my flair on it, maybe with some Mexican. Matthew really likes healthy cooking. So we mashed them together.”

What they ended up with was their original recipe, Tostitos chipotle chicken tacos. It is served in a grilled flour tortilla with Tostitos salsa and Pepsi-marinated chicken with sides of Sabra guacamole-based salsa verde and Sierra Mist red cabbage slaw.

To make it to Arizona, they had to submit a video as round one. Teams from all four CIA campuses — New York, California, Texas and Singapore — entered the competition. Teams whose videos were chosen had to create their dishes for judges, who narrowed the field down to four.

Judges include: Food Network chef Anne Burrell; James Beard Award winner and Bravo “Top Chef Masters” contestant David Burke; New York Jets Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold; Waldy Malouf, the culinary institute’s director of food and beverage operations; and PepsiCo corporate executive research chef Stephen Kalil.

The final two teams will cater Saturday’s Taste of the NFL’s annual Party With a Purpose.

“I’m big into football,” Folks said about why she entered the contest, “and I have to pay for school. And it doesn’t really matter what’s going on at school, Matthew wants to be a part of it. It was a no brainer.”

Johnson said the two met two years ago on their first day of college.

“We’re stuck with each other,” he said. “We’re a team.”

He said he is excited to go to the pre-parties, where they will meet chefs and players. They plan to document the experience and post to their various social media accounts throughout the five-day trip.

Johnson said he has always loved food. He grew up watching Food Network shows and surrounding himself with his Italian-American family, who always seemed to be cooking.

“But they never cooked healthy,” he said. “When I was a kid, I weighed about 310 pounds. I lost it in high school, about 110 pounds. Now food is so much a part of my life, as well as healthy food.”

Folks found her attraction to the culinary scene at a young age, too.

“It’s because of my dad,” she said. “I think he missed his calling, and he lives vicariously through me in school. I was always in the kitchen with him. It was a good time to have with him, and now I’m doing it on my own.”

She said she went to West for its three-year culinary program and that it prepared her for the culinary institute.

“It’s the only way I knew of [it],” Folks said. “I thought it was so far out of my reach. It’s like the Harvard of culinary schools, and you have to really be on top of your game.

“All I can say is, anyone who doesn’t think they’re good enough, work hard and you can do it … I never thought about doing anything else.”