SBHS Team Chef’d was in constant motion preparing their dish. L-R Peter Lumholdt, Oliver Reckord-Groten, Griffin LaLonde, and Mara Senecal-Albrecht. Photo: Courtney Reckord.

Ready, Set, Chop: Local Teams Compete and Win at the 10th Annual Jr Iron Chef VT

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Thursday March 30, 2017

Saturday, March 18 was a sunny brisk morning with energy bursting at the seams at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. Some 55 teams of student chefs from all over the state were bracing themselves for the high-intensity Junior Iron Chef VT competition ahead, and among them were three teams from South Burlington schools. After 90 minutes of intense chopping and stirring, South Burlington High School (SBHS) team Chef’d won the Lively Local award, a second-time win for the team in as many years.

Jr Iron Chef VT, now in its 10th year, is a program of Vermont FEED (Food Education Every Day), a statewide Farm to School program that raises awareness about nutrition and the importance of local food and farms to a healthy food system. Middle and high school students are charged with creating fresh and creative meals featuring local ingredients, empowering them to develop healthy eating habits and cooking skills. With only 90 minutes to prepare a dish from start to finish, the competition teaches these students how to face real life situations involving making quick and effective decisions through cooking under pressure.

For their winning dish, Team Chef’d, SBHS seniors Griffin LaLonde, Peter Lumholdt, Oliver Reckord-Groten and Mara Senecal-Albrecht, prepared Japanese-inspired wasabi farfalle with pickled vegetables. Coached by Jim McCarthy, executive chef at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, they made everything from scratch, from pasta to pickles and colorful sauces. Their Lively Local award honors the dish that most creatively highlights Vermont foods; last year, the team won the competition’s Crowd Pleaser award.

FHTMS Teams Shine

The two teams from Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School, who had already proven their mettle by taking top spots in the school’s Rebel Chef Competition in January, also delivered professional results and outstanding teamwork.

Team Straight Outta Tuttle, sixth graders Bo Chen, Levi Frechette, Finn Zuccareno, and Michael Thompson, prepared their tantalizing tempura on a bed of fantastic fried rice, combining two Asian-inspired dinner favorites. Returning to the competition after a strong performance last year, the team lived up to their toques, traditional chef’s hats. Coach Christine Thompson advised her team to stay focused in the midst of the chaos, especially during plating the dish, when things became tense with only ten minutes to go. “I love the presentation!” observed one passerby.

Nearby, dressed in hand-painted team aprons and “flaming” black headbands, the FHTMS Rising Flames, seventh graders Christina Conklin, Hiba Ali, Liana Wijetunga, Kimberly Hurer, and Deepika Muthuswamy, created a delicious butternut squash and winter spinach fettuccine with toasted croutons. Jolyn Wijetunga and Gayle Conklin, the team’s coaches, urged their chefs-in-training to “have fun,” and the team happily obliged, dancing and singing along to the blasting pop music as they chopped and sliced, while also making sure they were following the recipe accordingly, of course.

While they were not allowed to help students prepare their dishes, team coaches hovered nearby with advice and encouragement. McCarthy consistently advised Team Chef’d to “make sure it all tastes good on its own before putting it together on the plate. The recipe is only a guideline at best.” The team regularly taste tested throughout the competition, with their facial expressions indicating their approval to move on to the next step.

Rising Flames coach Wijetunga agreed that her team had learned a lot more than just cooking in their many months of preparation and both competitions. “It’s been very rewarding to see them develop their interests in cooking and grow in confidence in one another and their skills in the kitchen.”

SOURCE: Caroline Bick and Eugenia Sanabria-Fernandez