“Two minutes! Let’s go!”
Divided into two teams, students hurried about the kitchen in a nervous excitement as Barbara McConnell, Fort Campbell High School cafeteria manager and Falcons Junior Chef team coach reminded them of the few minutes they had left to complete their task. In this competition, students are docked crucial points for missing their timelines.
“It’s kind-of nerve-wracking because we only have so much time to get everything done, when it’s got to be done,” said FCHS Junior Christiana Crawford.
In preparation for its upcoming regional competition, five student hopefuls participated in a cook-off Tuesday to determine which students would fill the top primary spots on the FCHS Farm to School Junior Chef Program team and continue on to compete.
“We can only have three-to-five members on the team, and two of those five are alternates,” said McConnell. “The team that wins this cook-off will automatically be on the [primaries] on the team, and then we’ll choose the remaining members.”
Chef Sam Bennett, member of the Clifton T. Stanfill American Culinary Federation Chapter, located in Clarksville, Tenn., continues to mentor the Falcons team and has observed significant growth in skill and ability in the past weeks.
“I’ve witnessed great improvement,” said Bennett. “You can’t just jump in the first day and be expected to be perfect. You learn little things that you need to improve on, and as time goes on, as your cooking, you find where that ‘thing’ steps in place.”
“They’ve come a long way, and we’re really proud of them,” continued Bennett. “I think they will all do really well at the regional competition.”
In addition to meeting the time requirements, the teams must ensure their dish meets all other criteria.
“We have to make sure everything is perfect – presentation and taste is the key,” said Crawford.
The team entries were judged by a panel of judges consisted of Nicole Maxfield, Child Nutrition assistant; Jesse Frye, Kentucky Department of Agriculture inspector; Col. (retired) Mitchell Sartain, FCHS Reserve Officers’ Training instructor; Mohan Vaswani, FCHS principal; and James Strait, FCHS assistant principal.
According to Frye, the Kentucky Farm to Schools Junior Chef program allows students to grow into healthier adults through education and competition.
“This gets more kids [involved] in the school and we are also promoting healthy eating,” said Frye. “It’s just a win-win situation all the way around. We have them doing something positive – and that’s a good thing.”
Both teams prepared a meal that consisted of hearty fire roasted chili with light spicy corn bread and a watermelon and berry salad. After sampling both entries, judges carefully considered the five cooking criteria (taste, appearance, creativity, best and most use of local ingredients, and nutrition level) and graded accordingly.
Once judging was complete, team two was crowned winner of the cook-off. The Falcons Junior Chef team that will go on to compete at regional is comprised of seniors Brandon Benson, Jessica Rodriguez, and Bryan Lopez as an alternate; sophomores Shawn Rios and Essense Nelson; and Christiana Crawford, junior.
Rogers is impressed with students’ hard work and application during the competition.
“I was amazed at how competitive the students were, and how comfortable they had become working together in the kitchen,” said Jarrett Rogers, Fort Campbell High School food service director. “When I overheard a couple of the students discussing how to make the food look better for presentation, I knew they were up to the challenge.”
Regional cook-off is set for 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.
“I am very pleased with the effort given by each team member,” said Rogers. “I am sure our team will be a force to be reckoned with.”