A student culinary team from Apex High in Wake County won first place in the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition earlier this month for their grilled chicken street tacos with mango salsa, seasoned black beans and cilantro lime rice. The team of two students, Amanda Marrott and Alyssa Townsend, represented North Carolina in the second annual regional competition held May 9-10 at Sullivan University in Kentucky.
The Wake County team outcooked seven other student culinary teams last month to win the North Carolina Jr. Chef Competition and advance to the Southeast regional contest.
“Although it was a lot of recipe testing, taste revisions, nutrition modifications, and hard work, the best part was being able to see our growth along the way. We had a goal, worked hard, and achieved it,” said Marrott.
Teams from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and North Carolina competed in the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition. Harlan County High from Baxter, Kentucky, won second place with their taco Pop-Tart. A team from Putnam Charter School in Eatonton, Georgia, won third place with their honey chipotle chicken tacos with mango salsa and cilantro lime crema. Sullivan University in Kentucky awarded students from the top three finishing teams with scholarships. Members of the first- and second-place teams were offered full scholarships, and members of the third-place team were offered partial scholarships to attend the university.
“These kids proved that school lunches can be colorful, nutritious, and taste amazing,” said Erica Hoskins, Family and Consumer Sciences teacher for the Apex High team. “I loved this competition because it took me as a culinary instructor out of my comfort zone with teaching the classics and pushed me to understand and appreciate school nutrition. I enjoyed showing them that they can combine their love of food with so many different careers.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition and challenged each of the states in the Southeast to identify a team of students to represent their state at the competition. Students were challenged to work with their local School Nutrition Programs to develop a school lunch entrée recipe to adhere to national nutrition standards, include at least two ingredients grown in their state and one USDA Foods item, and appeal to student taste preferences. For the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition, teams had 90 minutes to prepare their dish and two minutes to present their recipe and student taste-test results to judges.
While the Apex High team was cooking to first place in Kentucky, two of the finalist teams in the N.C. Jr. Chef Competition presented during the Thrive NC festival in Raleigh hosted by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. Teams from Parkwood High in Union County and Hobbton High in Sampson County presented on stage among James Beard awardees and nominees Vivian Howard, Ashley Christensen, Cynthia Wong, Keith Rhodes, Meherwan Irani, and Cheetie Kumar along with several other local celebrity chefs. The students shared their experience with the Jr. Chef Competition and how they created their recipes. They also had the opportunity to meet and ask questions of the mentor chefs at the event. The Thrive NC festival showcased talented chefs and producers from across the state and was paired with a daylong summit that highlighted the need for healthy food access for all.