Chef Surprise

N.J. Youth Hockey Player Proves That He Can Also Stand The Heat In The Kitchen

Some hockey players excel at dishing out pucks. New Jersey Wild left wing Gibson Borelli is quickly becoming a master of dishing out extraordinary meals.

He’s already won a national televised cooking competition—and he’s just barely a teenager.

“Some kids get up in the morning and turn on SportsCenter. Gibson turns on Food Network,” says his father, Brett Borelli. “Guy Fieri is Gibson’s Wayne Gretzky.”

The 13-year-old aspiring chef actually got his start in the kitchen partly out of necessity, rather than in pursuit of culinary glory.

“My folks didn’t really cook, and I wanted something homemade,” Gibson recalls. “I started with chocolate chip cookies, and continued to full meals, to multiple courses, to full days of cooking.”

And that was just fine by mom.

“When Gibson expressed interest  in cooking, I thought, ‘Why not give it a try?’” says his mother, Alison Borelli. “He would print out recipes and ask me to take him to the supermarket to buy the ingredients.”

Now he gets his own groceries — with the help of mom’s credit card, of course.

His forte is making delicious chicken dishes. Although he likes desserts, they’re sometimes harder to navigate than a congested neutral zone.

“I’m so much better at meals,” Gibson admits. “Desserts are challenging. You have to be very precise.”

However, he did bring cookies to the rink one day, and tried them out on his teammates.

They told him they were good, and couldn’t believe it when Borelli said he had made them himself.

“They said ‘what?’” he says. “I told them I was going to be on TV, and that they could catch me there.”

A Hoboken, N.J., native, Gibson has skated since he was 6 years old, and has played left wing at the Peewee level the past three years with the Wild, where his younger brother, Hudson, is a goalie, and their father is the head coach.

“My dad took me to a free skate in Jersey City, and I loved it,” Gibson recalls of his initial foray onto ice. He quickly turned his attention to hockey.

“Figure skating wasn’t my thing,” he laughs.

Although cooking wasn’t either at first, he ultimately found himself competing as one of eight contestants on Season 2 of the Food Network’s “Rachael vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off” featuring celebrity chefs Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri.

Gibson appeared on the Food Network's "Rachel vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off" show and won his own three episode series on the channel's website.Gibson appeared on the Food Network's "Rachel vs. Guy: Kids Cook-Off" show and won his own three episode series on the channel's website.

“It was crazy,” he says of the experience. “It’s something you think would never happen, and then it happens. You see them on TV and you think they’re hotshots, and then you get to know them and they’re just nice, down-to-earth people.”

Borelli is used to being around famous faces. Despite living in New Jersey, and in close proximity to New York City, he considers himself a fan of the resurgent New York Islanders.

“I get so much hate for it,” chuckles Gibson, who wears No. 91 in homage of Islanders star John Tavares.

He attended a few contests a year at the recently-shuttered (at least to NHL hockey) Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and got to meet his favorite player, Isles defenseman Thomas Hickey, following a game last season.

“It was really cool,” Gibson says. “A friend of a friend grew up with him, and we got set up with passes. It was so much fun.”

So was winning the youth chef contest, which earned Gibson his own three-episode series on Food Network’s website that aired last September. He prepared Deconstructed Pork Wellington and then Philly Cheesesteak Egg Rolls to best the competition.

Another thrill was having Curtis Stone as a celebrity judge, whom Borelli had watched on Netflix before making his own plunge into competitive cooking.

“For him to be there was crazy,” Gibson says. “He was one of the first ones to get me into cooking.”

Still, Gibson is no slouch on the ice. He’s been a regular contributor for the Wild’s offense the past three season. His father is quick to point out that his son’s forte is using his size to screen goalies and working the corners.

Gibson plans to keep playing through high school and maybe into college, all the while keeping up with his studies—and cooking, naturally. A seventh-grader at The Hudson School, he skates out of the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J., and endures bumper-to-bumper traffic from the Lincoln Tunnel every Friday to get to practice.

“I hope to manage everything,” says Gibson, who added that his favorite scholastic subjects include art, Japanese and gym. “It’ll be hard, but I’m going to try and pull it off.”

He still has a lot of time left with the Wild, and has continued to be just one of the guys despite his off-ice notoriety.

“Being a celebrity chef doesn’t faze Gibson at all,” dad says. “He leaves that all behind as soon as he’s hanging with his teammates in the locker room, although we are all expecting him to cook up a special dish for everyone at our hockey club’s end-of-season party.”

The most common request he gets from his fellow players,  when is he going to  come over and cook  for them.

“That would be a little hard,” Gibson says. “I have a lot of teammates.”

Roman J. Uschak is a freelance writer based out of Union, N.J.


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