Students Discover the Joy of Cooking Through Friendly Competition
Story and Photography By Emily Beck
As the clock neared 5:30 that evening, the pressure in the kitchen heightened, and it seemed to grow louder and smaller as each team rushed to perfect the presentation of each dish. The professionalism was astounding; each plate had a garnish, and could have rivaled dishes found at high-end restaurants. The judging began at 5:30pm. The six judges dined with each team family style, inquiring about the inspiration for each dish as parents and photographers hovered nearby. Each young chef looked nervous. Not only did the competitors have to whip up an impressive dish in an hour, but they also had to engage in conversation with a panel of judges who held the power to determine their fate! The pressure eased off, however, when each middle school student had the chance to shine for the judges, who were genuinely interested in their interests and aspirations.
A table was set up for each team. After the judges had a chance to sample each dish, they moved to the next table. The panel featured a mixture of community and board members, including John Oakey of Channel 7 News and Millard Public Schools board member Linda Poole.
The judges based their scores on taste, appearance and originality. Many dishes exhibited creativity, such as the East Meets West Baked Chicken Wings, an entrée submitted by eighth-grader Jessica Steckelberg from Central Middle School. It featured a homemade barbecue sauce (the West) and a curry sauce (the East).
“This has gone so smoothly this year,” said Edrie Pearce, food service supervisor. She and several others were responsible for sending the invitations to each middle school, selecting the winning recipes and shopping for the food. The entire planning process takes around six weeks each year, according to Justin. “I think it’s a great opportunity for kids … a lot of kids are interested in food, and this is a wonderful place to develop their skills and have some friendly competition,” Edrie said.
Seventh-grader Kacie Shields from Russell Middle School was excited to partake in the competition. Her dish, Mexican Black Bean and Hominy Salad, was inspired by her father. According to her mom, Lisa Shields, Kacie wants to someday own a bakery or host her own cooking show. “I think it’s great they’re learning about cooking healthy and eating healthy,” she said. For now, Kacie is in it simply for the love of it. “I just like cooking,” she said. “I think it’s fun.”
In the end, Kiewit Middle School took the top prize. The team’s appetizer, Tomato and Avocado Quesadillas with Mango Salsa, and its entrée, Chef M’s Filipino Chicken with Broccoli and Rice, both received Top Dish awards.
But every middle school competitor walked away with a sense of accomplishment and a newfound appreciation for the art of healthy cooking. The goals of the competition—to introduce kids to the joy of cooking, and to allow them to see its vitality as a life skill while introducing healthy meal planning and preparation—were successfully accomplished. And, according to Justin, the participants were even able to keep their sleek black chef jackets.
The recipes, as well as additional photos from the event, can be found in an online cookbook on the Millard Public Schools district website.