Something big is cooking at Fort Campbell High School – and it’s enough to satisfy the most competitive of appetites.
With sizzling sounds of food preparation floating through the FCHS cafeteria kitchen April 4, students on the Falcons Junior Chef team prepared what would be that day’s lunch menu.
Focused on their individual tasks, students shuffled about gathering ingredients and cookware. The meal they would prepare would also serve as their first cooking rehearsal in preparation for the Farm to School Junior Chef Program competition.
“I’m really excited!” said Brandon Benson, FCHS senior. “It’s going to be a great experience.”
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture is hosting its first Kentucky Farm to School Junior Chef competition, with district cook-offs beginning this month. The statewide cooking competition offers high school students the opportunity to learn important skills in recipe development, food preparation, marketing, public presentation, organization, teamwork and community involvement.
“We have seven students total that will compete in the upcoming district competition,” said Barbara McConnell, FCHS cafeteria manager and Junior Chef team coach. “If we win, then we’ll go to the next level, regional competition and then the state fair in the summer.”
Dressed to impress in new chef uniforms, students sported a professional and stylish look as they made their way around the kitchen, complete with a familiar face on their left shoulder sleeve – “Ole Abe,” the 101st Airborne Division unit patch.
“The Screaming Eagle is represented,” said Jarrett Rogers, Fort Campbell schools food service director. “I think anything less would have been in poor taste. Because [of all that] our service men and women give, it has to be illustrated and represented in everything that we do here on Fort Campbell.”
Fort Campbell is scheduled to compete at District against Christian County, Hopkinsville and University Heights High Schools April 23 at 8:45 a.m. at FCHS.
If the Falcons win, they will compete in the Regional cook-off May 22 from 4-8 p.m. at the Christian County Extension office. Regional winners will then go on to compete at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville, Ky., Aug. 16-25.
Falcons senior, Tatianna Behn, applied for the Junior Chef team after some encouragement from her mother.
“We both overheard the school announcement and my mom goes ‘You should!’ and I go ‘I will!’” said a smiling Behn. “This is a great opportunity for me to get into the kitchen and see how our people work.”
A fan of the television show Iron Chef, Behn does see a resemblance between the show and the school’s competition.
“It is similar to Iron Chef,” said Behn. “We really do have that time frame where we have to work to get everything prepped and ready. It’s going to be interesting.”
The FCHS Junior Chef team will demonstrate their creativity by preparing healthy and delicious dishes that meet National School Lunch Program menu guidelines. They will be judged by a panel for taste, appearance, creativity, best and most use of local ingredients and ease. Recipes must contain at least five local ingredients.
Designed to stimulate interest in local agriculture, the Farm to School program creates a nontraditional market for Kentucky farmers with the objective of increasing the quality of products available to school cafeterias and ultimately increasing students’ consumption of produce and fresh ingredients, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture website, www.kyagr.com.
The Junior Chef competition offers students the unique opportunity of creating meals made from these local, fresh ingredients.
“They’re getting in the kitchen and cooking fresh raw ingredients – that is the main thing,” said McConnell. “They can see how we cook for them. So they can now cook that way for themselves and their Families at home.”
The program also allows local chefs to partner with schools and assist teams, contributing their professional experience and culinary expertise. Chef Sam Bennett, member of the Clifton T. Stanfill American Culinary Federation Chapter, located in Clarksville, Tenn., volunteered his time to mentor the Falcon team, providing them with some insight about food and how to choose healthier options.
The Junior Chef program also provides creative opportunities for students interesting in culinary art careers.
“It really helps students makes a connection with what their passion is,” said Todd Curkenhall, assistant superintendent of Fort Campbell Schools.
“They realize that education is important and that they must prepare for the future. Just making that connection for our students, I think, is pretty powerful.”
Looking toward the future, Rogers sees this competition as a stepping stone for Fort Campbell schools to create lasting partnerships with their students.
“After this competition, I would like for these students to become a panel – become a liaison between the student body and the food service department,” said Rogers.
“We can work together in collaboration which will allow us to offer menu items that they enjoy. We want students to be interested in what they are receiving in the cafeteria and have an influence – That’s ultimately our goal.”