Junior chefs cook up first prize

A Milton middle-schooler stirs a pot of steaming produce at the Junior Iron Chef competition on Saturday, March 22 at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex. (Photo by Harjit Dhaliwal)

Milton’s teams were two of 62 who competed in morning and afternoon heats at the Champlain Valley Exposition on Saturday, March 22. Vermont Food Education Every Day and the Burlington School Food Project hosted the seventh annual cook-off.

This was the district’s third year in the contest, which requires using five locally grown ingredients, Gannon said.

Some of Milton’s produce was as local as you can get: the chive garnish for the potato-rutabaga-turnip pancakes was grown right in the cafeteria. Team member Aimee Lemieux’s own chickens hatched the eggs, which bound the shredded veggies (from MR Harvest farm in So. Hero) together.

Rounding out her team were Aly Sheehan, Ryley Metcalf and Kazi Vaughn. The Little Chefs were Ashley Smith, Sam Susco, Allison Hannah and Isabella Anemikos.

The girls, all in sixth or seventh grade, met twice a month for 90 minutes after school to prepare for the contest, learning basic knife skills and how to incorporate seasonal veggies into their cooking, Gannon said.

The competition is meat- and nut-free, and both teams used  Vermont apples in their dishes. The Little Chefs mixed those with sweet potatoes and cranberries to form a rustic topping for their stuffed French toast; the Jackets’ latkes got a generous scoop of apple compote.

The day of the event, the students set up their gear at tables, roped off from spectators. Coaches were allowed to talk to students but couldn’t lend a physical hand, Gannon said. That was OK: They’d practiced with no help before.

The teams had to troubleshoot – one team lost power using a food processor, and the girls had to change a gas tank in the middle of cooking.

“They were extremely organized,” Gannon said. “They took everything really seriously  … but they were also really calm and collected. I was more nervous than they were.”

A big crowd of fans – parents, classmates and community members – added to the adrenaline, too.

The 90-minute allotted time passed, and when the prize was announced, the girls were shocked.

“They all came back and helped clean up and didn’t want to go home,” Gannon said.  “They wanted to just be in celebration mode after that.”

So Gannon, Little Chefs’ coach and health teacher Joanna Scott and Food Service Director Steve Marinelli threw the girls a pizza party last Friday night. The girls made everything – from dough to sauce – from scratch.

Gannon hopes the positive energy will carry over into next year and to the high school. Though it’s fun to win, the event is more about building teamwork and leadership, she said.

“A lot of this problem-solving they worked out as a team,” she said. “A lot of the decisions really weren’t made by me, which was great.”

RECIPE: Seasonal Stuffed French Toast

Team Little Chefs

The Little Chefs team concocted a seasonal stuffed French toast dish, drawing on wintery flavors of apple, sweet potato and cranberry. (Photo by Sarah Metcalf)

Ingredients:

For French toast

  • 1 French baguette loaf (cut into 1-in. slices)
  • 7 large eggs
  • 2 C milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. apple pie spice
  • ½ C apple butter
  • Cooking spray

For topping

  • 3 apples, peeled, cored & diced
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, cooked but still firm, diced
  • ½ C dried cranberries, hydrated in ¼ C apple juice, then drained
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp. white sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon

For glaze

  • 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/2 C pure maple syrup
  • 1 C confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

French toast

Set aside bread. Combine eggs, milk, vanilla, apple pie spice and apple butter in bowl; mix well. Pre-heat a griddle on medium/low heat, and have cooking spray ready. Dip each piece of bread into the egg mixture, and cook until golden brown. Keep warm until ready to plate.

Topping

Meanwhile, in a medium pot, boil water. Cook sweet potatoes in water until tender but still firm. Place prepared apples in bowl with hydrated cranberries and drained potatoes. Add sugars, cinnamon and lemon zest; stir until combined. Set aside until ready to plate.

Glaze

In a small saucepan, melt butter and syrup over medium heat. Whisk confectioner’s sugar into hot mixture until smooth. Set aside.

Take 2 slices of French toast, add 3 Tbsp. of topping and lightly drizzle glaze. Enjoy!

RECIPE: Rainbow Root Latkes with Apple Compote

Team Chef Jackets

The winning dish is pictured: Rainbow root vegetable latkes with an apple compote topping. (Photo by Sarah Metcalf)

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ lb. potatoes
  • ½ lb. turnip/rutabagas
  • ½ lb. carrots
  • 1 red onion
  • ¼ C chives plus garnish
  • 3 Tbsp. panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Vegetable oil
  • 6 lb. apples
  • 4 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1 C water
  • 1 pint plain yogurt

Directions:

Compote

Chop and peel apples into sauce pan. Add syrup and water. Cook on low burner, stirring every few minutes until slightly lumpy but cooked. Add remaining water as needed.

Latke

Shred potatoes with food processor into large strainer over larger bowl; set aside to drain. Shred turnip, carrot and onion into another bowl. Add chopped chives, panko, salt and pepper. Squeeze liquid from potatoes and add to turnip mixture. Pour off clear liquid from potato water and add starch on bottom to shredded vegetables. Add lightly beaten eggs; mix well.

Heat 1/3-inch oil in a fry pan over medium heat. Using ¼ C measurement, make patties with shredded veggie; set on tray. Once oil is hot, place a few cakes in the pan, cooking on both sides until golden brown.

Place ¼ C compote on plate, lay latke on top, drizzle with yogurt and sprinkle with chives.

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