Students rise to challenge of Future Chefs

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Six student contestants pose with their prizes and medals at the annual Future Chefs Competition. Contestants in front row from left are Ashlyn Simon, Mackenzie Wood, Maggie Rempe, Courtney Strobel, Brooke Marak and Laila Gyami. High school culinary students from left in back are Coda Landers, Eric Lipuma, Nathaniel Rays and Jack Gillespie. (Dana Delgado Photo)

Six student contestants pose with their prizes and medals at the annual Future Chefs Competition. Contestants in front row from left are Ashlyn Simon, Mackenzie Wood, Maggie Rempe, Courtney Strobel, Brooke Marak and Laila Gyami. High school culinary students from left in back are Coda Landers, Eric Lipuma, Nathaniel Rays and Jack Gillespie. (Dana Delgado Photo)

By Dana Delgado

In an afternoon designated to showcase one’s culinary skills, six Liberty Hill elementary school students rose to the challenge at the annual Future Chefs Challenge.

Every contestant proclaimed a level of anxiety but once the competition got underway, calm and confidence along with a dash of creativity reigned as the key ingredients of the six finalists vying for prizes and the opportunity to represent the district at the regional challenge.

Mary Sheffield, director of Child Nutrition Services for the Liberty Hill Independent School District, said that the Future Chefs Competition, sponsored by Sodexo, which oversees Child Nutrition Services in LHISD, is a friendly competition that underscores the importance of nutrition and allows students the opportunity to work in a professional kitchen.

“We want to educate students on nutrition and promote healthy eating habits,” said Sheffield. “This event gives students the opportunity to be creative and learn that healthy food can be good for you and tasty at the same time.”

Participating this year in the Future Chefs competition were Ashlyn Simon, Mackenzie Wood, Maggie Rempe, Courtney Strobel, Brooke Marak and Laila Gyami. The six were selected as finalists from a large field of recipe entries from across the school district and won the opportunity to prepare and present their novel breakfast snacks before a panel of judges on March 10 at Liberty Hill Intermediate School.

With their personal recipes in hand, students spent the first 45 minutes preparing their breakfast dishes in the school’s kitchen with the help of high school students from the culinary arts program and cafeteria managers from several LHISD campuses.

“It was inspiring to see the students make healthy food choices and showcase their healthy breakfast recipes,” said Sheffield. “We have all heard that it is important for children to eat breakfast, but what they eat is also crucial. Foods rich in whole grains, protein and reduced sugar boost their concentration in the classroom.”

After reviewing the six entries, competition judges Kathy Becker, Claudeane Braun, and Megan Burke announced the various category winners as well as the Overall District Winner and presented medals and gift baskets. Judging was based on originality, healthy attributes, easy preparation, kid friendly, and taste and plate presentation.

Ashlyn Simon, a third grade student at Bill Burden Elementary School, was named the district’s Overall Winner in the Sodexo Future Chefs Challenge for her Almond Butter, Yogurt & Fruit Parfait. She now advances to the regional competition. (Dana Delgado Photo)

Ashlyn Simon, a third grade student at Bill Burden Elementary School, was named the district’s Overall Winner in the Sodexo Future Chefs Challenge for her Almond Butter, Yogurt & Fruit Parfait. She now advances to the regional competition. (Dana Delgado Photo)

Ashlyn Simon, a third grade student at Bill Burden Elementary, was named the district’s Overall Winner for her Almond Butter, Yogurt & Fruit Parfait.

“I’m excited,” said Miss Simon immediately following the announcement of the winners. “It was fun and I think it was the strawberries and grapes that made my entry. It came out much better than my first and only practice at home, which was not good.”

Besides grapes and strawberries, Simon’s winning snack includes non-fat Greek yogurt, almond butter, honey, and chopped roasted almonds.

As the Overall Winner, she advances to the regional competition where her recipe and a photo of her dish will be considered for a regional finalist award. If selected as a regional finalist, Miss Simon will contend to become one of the five national finalists.

In other categories, Laila Gyami took honors for Originality with her Apple Muffin recipe.

“I thought it was going to be hard with a timer and everything and I was going to freak, but it all went fine,” said the fourth grader from Bill Burden Elementary who helps her mother a lot at home.

“Everyone liked my muffins,” she said.

Winning for Best Presentation was fifth grader Courtney Strobel with her Mini Frittatas.

“I feel great,” said Miss Strobel. “I cook a lot at home and I’ve always wanted to do the competition. I just like to do something hard and challenging.”

In her first year competing, Brooke Marak was recognized for her Kid Friendly dish, Hulk Smoothie, which blended bananas, peanut butter, spinach, yogurt, and almond milk.

“It was my mother’s idea to make a smoothie,” said the fourth grader. “I was nervous and excited and I thought it was going to be a disaster but it wasn’t. I like to cook a lot, but my favorite is making cookies.”

Maggie Rempe with her Lemon Berry Energy Bites, which included old fashioned oats, blueberries, honey, flaxseed, lemon and almonds, won the Healthy Attributes Award.

“I was really excited,” she said. “I got interested in the competition from watching the TV show ‘Cupcake Wars’.”

With a mix of ham, onions, eggs, spinach, cheese and salt and pepper, Mackenzie Wood walked away with the Best in Taste Award with her Omelet Muffin.

“Everything went really, really good,” said the fifth grader. “My mom will make these for softball and they taste really good.”

“The event went very well,” said Sheffield. “It is always exciting to see the students’ confidence and desire for competition in Liberty Hill whether it is the classroom, the playing field or in this case the kitchen.”

While the district turns its attention to support Ashlyn Simon in the regional Future Chefs Competition, Sheffield announced that LHHS students would be competing April 15 in a culinary challenge at Eastview High School in Georgetown.

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