The temperature in the Lancaster High School cafeteria kitchen began to rise as five elementary students started cooking up their recipe for this year’s Sodexo Future Chef competition. Fifth grader Ju’Liyah Brown, from Houston Elementary, chose Tortilla Soup for her dish. Working with her partner she quickly cut onions, tomatoes, bell pepper and various other ingredients, placing each one in the boiling water in front of her. Occasionally she added a dash of spice here and there to get the perfect taste hoping to be named the winner of the contest.
“I just wanted my soup to be the best dish ever,” Brown said. “I put everything I was asked to in the soup and then added our secret touch to make the flavor that would keep everyone coming back for another bowl.”
Sodexo, in their first year as the district nutrition provider, wanted students to have a chance at the contest which promotes healthy cooking. Sodexo head chef, Brittany James, planned the whole contest and said she is happy with the response.
“These competitors were excited about preparing their dish,” James said. “This became a very healthy competition between the students.”
Each student was given a specific recipe with ingredients they could use to make their dish healthy. Students were assigned a partner to work with from the Lancaster ISD Nutrition Department. Rolling Hills Elementary third grader Nicholas Stephens prepared a Mexican Lasagna with the help of his partner Helen Kimber, West Main Elementary Cafeteria Supervisor.
“Nicholas was an excellent partner for our cooking project,” Kimber said. “He worked hard preparing everything with just a little help. He did everything to make our dish the best dish of the day.”
Each student was given a Sodexo chef hat, a special shirt and a monogrammed chef’s apron before starting the contest. They were then taken to the kitchen and given a safety speech as well as the contest rules.
“They were so happy when they got to the kitchen,” James said. “You could tell they had all watched the Jr. Master Chef competition on television because they wanted to get started right away.”
The contest itself revolved around healthy eating. Every dish had to incorporate some type of healthy aspect in order to qualify for the final judging. Houston Elementary fifth grader McKenzie Malone prepared vegan tacos incorporating an unusual ingredient as a meat substitute.
“The key to my plate being a tasty one was preparing the jack fruit just right,” Malone said. “When I cut it up just right and seasoned it properly, those eating it couldn’t tell the difference in the vegan taco and a meat taco.”
After all the dishes were done in the one hour time frame, the final taste test was left up to the judges of the contest. In the end it was the tortilla soup that topped their list.
“I was so happy everyone kept coming back to my table and tasting my soup again and again,” Brown said. “This let me know my recipe was good. Now I am excited to take my recipe to the regional contest and see how popular it is at that contest and hopefully advance to Nationals.”