By Megan Alley
Select students from Hill Intermediate School in Bethel participated in a nationwide cooking competition on March 16, and the local winner, fifth-grader Lillie Webb, was announced during an assembly on March 24.
The competition, food services and facilities management company Sodexo’s Future Chefs Challenge, joined more than 2,500 students from more than 1,000 school sites in 29 states, according to a press release.
Eleven fifth-grade students from Hill Intermediate School participated in the initial round of the competition. They submitted healthy comfort food recipes, and the best recipes were selected to participate in the district-wide finals event.
Emma Wetzel was the runner-up and third place went to Kaydn Keller.
Now, Webb will go on to be considered for the regional finalist awards, and the selected regional finalists will vie to become one of five national finalists competing for the public’s vote on a special Future Chefs YouTube channel, and the highest vote-getter will be named the national winner.
The national competition, now in its seventh year, was created to get students thinking about making healthy food choices while also encouraging them to get active and creative in the kitchen, according to a press release.
During the district competition, each finalist was paired with a food preparation finalist; either a cafeteria cook from the school district or a Culinary Arts student from Grant Career Center.
Breann Sayre, who was matched with Vickie Jasontek, manager head cook at Bethel-Tate Middle School, prepared a breakfast casserole for the competition. She learned how to make the dish from her aunt.
Leading up to the competition, Sayre was feeling “a little nervous.”
She went on to explain her approach to cooking.
“I think that sometimes you just have to work really hard on some things,” she said. “Like some things might take a while, but eventually it’s done, and it tastes really good,” she said, noting that her favorite part of the process is, “to eat it when it’s done.”
Aubry Hollins, who was matched with Madi Lanthorn, a 12th-grader at Grant Career Center, prepared parmesan zucchini.
“It’s something that we eat really often because we eat vegetables with every meal, and we just wanted to change it up one day, so we put cheese on it,” Hollins explained. “It made it taste better.”
Hollins’s favorite part of the cooking process is “the mixing together,” and her favorite ingredient is onions.
She went on to describe what she likes about cooking.
“I like the fact that you get to do it with family, most of the time, and you have fun doing it,” Hollins said. “It just lets out your creativity.”
Vern Bastin, Bethel-Tate Local School District Board of Education member, served as one of the judges for the local competition. He described his method for judging and evaluating the dishes.
“It’s very sophisticated; it’s all about the senses,” he quipped.
What most impressed Bastin about the entries was that many of the recipes were variations on dishes that had been handed down.
“I thought that how they changed the recipes that they had gotten off of different areas; one contestant’s recipe was from her great-great-great-great-grandmother, so that was impressive, bringing together family tradition,” he said, adding, “I thought that the way they plated all their food was incredible.”
He also described the skills that cooking reinforces in the students.
“Cooking is basically chemistry,” he said. “Chemistry, math; you have to use your fractions, you have to get the right ingredients together to form something that is tasty.”
He added, “If you look at it in that way, there are some [science, technology, engineering and math] aspects to cooking.”