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Woodland Third and Fourth Graders cook their favorite comfort foods to compete in this year’s Future Chefs of America Event

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Third and fourth graders from Woodland Intermediate School created their favorite comfort foods by cooking recipes of their own selection in Sodexo's second annual Future Chefs of America event held at Woodland High School on Wednesday, March 27.

Keira Rhodes (left) prepares her gold-award winning comfort food - Biscuits and Gravy with Green Beans.
Keira Rhodes (left) prepares her gold-award winning comfort food - Biscuits and Gravy with Green Beans. 

Sodexo held the Future Chefs of America for a second year following overwhelming positive response from last year's inaugural event. "Future Chefs popularity is growing considerably with nearly 30 students submitting their favorite recipes for consideration in February," said Lan Ha, Nutrition Services Director for Woodland Public Schools. "We want to teach students healthy eating habits while also showing them that preparing food can be fun."

Liam Harry wheels out his comfort food creation called Watermelon Cake.
Liam Harry wheels out his comfort food creation called Watermelon Cake.

This year, seven students were selected as finalists to participate in the competition with this the theme featuring comfort food. The finalists' recipes included Biscuits and Gravy with Green Beans, Chili Corral, Cauliflower Bed, Summer Salad, Yummy in Your Tummy Pizza Balls, Watermelon Cake, and Tangy Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips.

Ha opened the event by presenting to the students and gathered community members the safety procedures for working with ovens, blenders, how to handle knives, and being knowledgeable of kitchen equipment. She also discussed proper food handling techniques with all of the students beginning first by thoroughly washing their hands.

Each student was paired with a food services employee. Here, Morrigan Chapman (left) prepares her Cauliflower Bread recipe.
Each student was paired with a food services employee. Here, Morrigan Chapman (left) prepares her Cauliflower Bread recipe. 

Each student, paired with a food services employee, prepared enough of their recipe for parents and community members who attended to sample the recipe, as well as a special presentation plate. Chef Dave Williams, Sodexo's Regional Chef, helped each student select from a variety of small vegetables and herbs to highlight the colors and presentation of their dishes.

Chef Williams and Jean "JJ" Lessard, Sodexo's District Manager, served as judges, sampling each recipe, and grading the overall presentation of each dish. Finalists received a certificate of participation as well as a medal for having their recipe selected. The gold winner was Keira Rhodes, with her Biscuits and Gravy with Green Beans, with the silver winner being Calista Conder with her Chili Corral. Rhodes received a gift basket including measuring cups, oven mitts, a cutting board, a backpack, and a Fitbit. In addition, her recipe will be submitted to compete at the regional competition for the event. Conder received a gift basket with a mandolin slicer and a selection of cooking utensils. Sodexo also provided chef hats and coats for each student to keep after wearing them during the event.

Calista Conder stirs her award-winning Chili Corral.
Calista Conder stirs her award-winning Chili Corral. 

Cooking at a younger age has become more popular in recent years thanks to the rise of videos on the Internet and television cooking shows. "A lot of the kids have experience with food preparation now thanks to television cooking shows and YouTube videos," explained Ha. "Many students help prepare food at home by cooking with their parents and families or even experimenting on their own."

The Future Chefs program is part of Sodexo's community outreach program with Sodexo sponsoring the event including buying the ingredients for all of the recipes. Students from Woodland High School's Culinary Arts classes volunteered to help ensure the elementary students followed proper food handling techniques and cooking utensil safety. Woodland staff members from the district's different school cafeterias helped supervise the students including: Lucy Dooley, Cristina Forgey, Julie Hancock, Annette Kirby, Judi Lute, Kelly Newton, and Mary Pietz.

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