By Dana Delgado
Nutrition isn’t just a nine letter word being tossed around lightly these days.
At least not in the minds and stomachs of students who participated in the Annual Future Chef Competition Feb. 13 at Bill Burden Elementary School in Liberty Hill.
“Future Chef is a friendly competition that allows students to experience what it is like to work in a professional kitchen,” said Mary Sheffield, General Manager for Liberty Hill ISD Child Nutrition Services. “We want to educate students on nutrition and promote healthy eating habits. This Sodexo sponsored event gives students the opportunity to be creative and learn that healthy food can be good for you and tasty at the same time.”
The competition, now in its fourth year, is sponsored by Sodexo, the food service management company that oversees Child Nutrition Services for Liberty Hill ISD.
Numerous students in grades four through six applied to compete by submitting their best sandwich recipes. But after careful review, only six students were selected to prepare their healthy sandwiches for review by a select panel of judges. While the competition this year called for sandwiches, the dish focus changes every year. Last year, student contestants prepared a salad and the year before a desert was the dish prepared for the judges.
“The competition is not only fun but educational,” said Ms. Sheffield.
Ms. Sheffield added that prior to entering the kitchen, students were educated on food and kitchen safety and educated on the importance of hand washing, wearing of hair restraints and gloves.
With their personal recipes in hand, students spent the first 45 minutes preparing their sandwiches in the school’s kitchen with the help of high school students from the culinary arts program as well as assistance from Nutrition Kitchen Managers from several LHISD schools.
“It was chaotic,” said chef contestant Kristopher Kelley, as all the contestants and their teams of support washed and cut produce, toasted bread, and arranged their sandwiches in time to prepare one presentation plate and samples for the judges and guests. Their selection of ingredients varied as much as their individual tastes.
LHHS Nutrition Kitchen Manager Michelle Bordelon found the students’ tastes to be extraordinary.
“Had I been in a chef competition like this when I was their age, I would have likely prepared a plain fried bologna sandwich on white bread,” said Ms. Bordelon. “These kids are so sophisticated in their tastes. I was impressed.”
One by one, they carried their finished products from the kitchen to the cafeteria eating area for display much to the delight of excited parents, judges and visitors. They were not only very serious about healthy food choices, but highly creative in their presentation.
When all the dishes were brought to the presentation area, it was the judges’ turn. Each of the judges, Kathy Becker, John Clark and Krissy Gryseels asked each Future Chef to explain their presentation before sampling the sandwich dishes and then scoring the creations.
Judging was based on originality, healthy attributes, easy preparation, kid friendly, and taste and plate presentation. After the scores were tabulated, the winners were announced.
Winning for Originality was Kristopher Kelly for his “Kris’ Cibatta Creation.” The fifth grade student from Darla Maple’s class said he also competed last year and considers himself to be a good chef and helps out in the kitchen at home. He said the uniqueness of his sandwich was its tangy, spicy taste.
Emma McAndrews, a fourth grader from Laura O’Meehan’s class at Burden Elementary, captured the Healthy Attributes category with her “All Chopped Up and Ready to Go” sandwich dish. Teamed with junior culinary arts student Cassie Rodriguez, the fourth grader said she “had a blast.”
“I got to use a chopper I had never used before,” Miss McAndrews said. “I also learned you have to be gentle with pitas.”
In the Easy Preparation category, Mackenzie Coleman was the winner with “Mackini.”
“It was really fun,” Miss Coleman said. “I’ve never worn a chef coat before.”
The fifth grade student from Gina Doolittle’s class says he always prepares this sandwich “at home on the weekends.”
Miss Coleman was aided by Joanna Sandoval, a junior culinary arts student from LHHS.
Rayanne Young took honors in the Kid Friendly category with her “Yum Yum Sandwich,” which used tasty Italian bread.
“It was fun,” she said. “I did three before the competition and my dad thought they were really good.”
Candice Bailey, a sophomore culinary arts student, assisted the third grader in Kenna Park’s class.
Voted Best Plate Presentation was Victoria Dohogne’s “Munchy Crunchy Sandwich” which included chopped pecans, apples, craisins, spinach, chicken breast strips and laughing cow creamy Swiss light cheese on thin rounds whole grain white with lite raspberry walnut vinaigrette.
“My experience was amazing,” said the fifth grader from Reagan Lochte’s class. She was assisted by junior culinary arts student Tayler Meadows.
Sixth grade student Noelia Hernandez from Brittany Thomas’ class was named Grand Prize Winner with “The Goggle Gobbler.”
“It was pretty exciting, but nerve-racking,” she said.
Miss Hernandez, who says she is a good cook at home but more of a baker, used oven roasted turkey breast and American cheese for her winning dish. Instead of bread, she used lettuce to form her sandwich. She was assisted by LHHS sophomore culinary arts students Breida Diaz and Cameron Ingram. As Grand Prize Winner, her recipe will be entered into a national competition.
All winners were presented certificates of award along with a gift collection of kitchen items and utensils. Cliff Reece, Sodexo Area Manager, and Allan Collins, Sodexo District Manager, assisted District Nutrition Manager Sheffield.
“This year’s event was a big success,” Ms. Sheffield said. “The elementary students produced some amazing healthy sandwich recipes.”