Five high school finalist teams competed in the annual North Carolina Jr. Chef cook-off this month to create unique school lunch entrée recipes. Apex High from Wake County Public Schools won first place in North Carolina’s fifth statewide and second virtual competition. The “Spice Girl’s” Sope recipe intertwined familial heritage with innovative flavors. Their recipe was a twist on a traditional Mexican street food: a masa shell topped with seasoned chicken, beans, pineapple salsa, cabbage, queso fresco and crema.
Their gold-medal dish featured several North Carolina grown ingredients, including red cabbage, romaine lettuce, red onion and chicken. The Apex High team has participated in a farm-to-table initiative at their school, learning about North Carolina agriculture, planting, growing, and harvesting crops from their school garden, hosting an #NCCrunch event at their school for Farm to School Month, and competing in the N.C. Jr. Chef Competition.
The Swain County High “Ridgerunner” team won second place and a silver medal for their tasty, trendy Shredded Chicken Tacos, a student favorite. Union County’s Parkwood High “Wolf Pack Chefs” paired mouth-watering Lasagna Roll-Ups with a homemade Creamy Balsamic Vinaigrette Simple Salad to win third place and a silver medal. The Monroe High “Menu Masters”, also from Union County, won fourth place and a silver medal with their Teriyaki Sunset, a delicious fusion of Asian and Mediterranean cuisine. Ashe County High’s “Husky Culinary” team won fifth place and a silver medal for their creative, spicy Lasagna Wrap-Ups, featuring pepper jack cheese blended with Italian flavors.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Catherine Truitt offered her congratulations to all the winning teams and said she wished she could have been one of the judges for the Jr. Chef Cook-Off.
“Wow, all of these dishes sound so good and so professional,” Truitt said. “Chef’s hats off to the winners and their teachers. This is an example of the type of hands-on career development happening in our schools that can open doors and opportunities for students.”
The Career and Technical Education students, enrolled in Culinary Arts and Hospitality, Food and Nutrition, or Food Science and Technology courses, were challenged to work with their Family and Consumer Sciences teachers and School Nutrition administrators to develop a creative recipe for a school lunch entrée that met a list of requirements: complies with School Nutrition Program standards, includes at least two North Carolina-grown products and one USDA Foods item, is replicable by School Nutrition Programs, and appeals to students.
For the competition, all finalist teams submitted an application with recipe, recipe photo, nutrient and cost analysis, a time management plan for preparing the recipe within the 90-minute time limit, and a video of their team preparing and plating their recipe. The Jr. Chefs also participated in a live virtual interview to present their culinary creations to a panel of evaluators. Teams were evaluated on their recipe development, culinary and food safety skills, public presentation, organization, teamwork, and use of locally grown products.
N.C. Jr. Chef finalist teams were recognized Wednesday during a recognition session at the N.C. Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (NCFCCLA) State Leadership Conference and through a virtual awards ceremony today. The students received their own N.C. Jr. Chef coats and hats, signaling their first step into the world of culinary competition. In addition, they received certificates and medals based on team scores. First, second and third-place teams received plaques to display in their schools, and the first-place team has the honor of hosting the competition trophy until the next cook-off. Sullivan University in Kentucky will offer scholarships to the student members of the top three teams.
The Junior Chef Competition was created to inspire the next generation of culinary professionals, stimulate interest in locally produced agricultural products, increase participation in School Nutrition Programs, provide nutrition education, and encourage healthy eating habits. The N.C. Department of Public Instruction, School Nutrition Division will work with the teams to scale up their recipes for quantity food service for school meals and create nutrition education and promotional resources for the recipes and the North Carolina ingredients used.
The N.C. Jr. Chef Competition was planned by the School Nutrition Division and Career and Technical Education Division at the Department of Public Instruction in partnership with the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ Farm to School Program, North Carolina Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (NCFCCLA) and the Farm to School Coalition of North Carolina.
USDA and NCDPI are equal opportunity providers and employers. Additional information about the N.C. Jr. Chef Competition is available online. More information regarding School Nutrition Programs in North Carolina can be found on the School Nutrition Division website.
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