Culinary Arts with a Side of Civics

When I first sat down to write this…

I was watching a group of Centerpoint School students slicing, dicing, boiling, and garnishing up “Blue Mash with Roots and Rings” in preparation for the following day’s Junior Iron Chef VT competition.  With the guidance of Centerpoint School Teacher and Iron Chef Coach Kevin Mailepors, other teachers, and our Guest Coach Anthony from the Bearded Frog restaurant (www.thebeardedfrog.com),  these students were focused (like you see in a professional kitchen)…there was some pressure and tension (like you see in  a professional kitchen)…they were smiling and laughing (I’m not really sure if this happens in a professional kitchen)…and they were coming to the culmination of 8 weeks of participation in their after-school “Iron Chef Club.”
 

When I next sat down to right this…

I had just spent a Saturday morning along with 20 other Centerpoint staff supporting and cheering on the Centerpoint School Food Fighters as they joined 55 other schools from throughout Vermont cooking up their entries and competing for 3 top awards and a variety of prizes.  And… surprise to some, no surprise to others, the Food Fighters won “Most Creative Dish” – with whoops and hollers, an awards ceremony, and a very heartfelt student’s acceptance speech.

And then I sat down again to write this…

after hearing from Kevin that the Burlington Free Press wanted to interview our Culinary Arts students about the competition.  The interview included meeting with a Free Press editor and a tour of the newsroom, and resulted in the following article (www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20110401/LIVING06/110331040/-1/FOOD/Students-show-iron-will-annual-Vt-cooking-contest-)

Students show iron will at annual Vt. cooking contest

               Written by Clover Whitham, Free Press Staff Writer

It’s game day. After weeks of practice, each team member, decked out in purple and gold, is focused and ready for 90 minutes of fast-paced teamwork in a competition for prizes and glory before an audience of hundreds.

But Astroturf stadium this is not. The game plan includes chopping, dredging, frying, peeling, plating, roasting and washing. The closest thing to a ball being passed may be a hot, Vermont-grown potato. This is the fourth annual Jr. Iron Chef Vermont competition.

“What I love about it is it gives a little alternative school a chance to see other schools and compete with them. We’ll never have a football team, this is like our Super Bowl,” said Kevin Mailepors, Centerpoint School teacher and coach of the five-member high school team from South Burlington.

The goal of the 55 middle- and high-school teams from around the state was to create the best dish featuring local ingredients. Each dish was judged on taste, appearance, creativity, use of local ingredients and the adaptability to cafeteria menus, based on time, cost and nutrition.

The pressure was high, but Centerpoint eighth-grader Thressa Gilmond took it in stride — even when the gas ran out on one of their stoves. Her team, the Food Fighters, won the “most creative dish” category with mashed potatoes topped with root vegetable chips and onion rings.

In the middle school and high school division, prizes were awarded in three categories: best in show; most creative dish; and greatest number and best use of local ingredients. The judges were farmers, food service directors, teachers, legislators and Vermont Commissioner of Education Armando Vilaseca. The competition was hosted by the Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) and the Burlington School Food Project at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction.

Centerpoint 10th-grader Blake Stanyon, a Jr. Iron Chef veteran, was in charge of roasting garlic and dredging vegetables for the Food Fighters. Thressa and Blake aren’t novices in the kitchen. They and their teammates have experience cooking lunch for their peers at Centerpoint, and both are fans of cooking shows on TV (Blake watches “Good Eats with Alton Brown,” Thressa favors “Cake Boss”). Both said they prefer baking, though, Blake likes bread and Thressa likes cookies.

They pleased the Jr. Iron Chef judges, but other adventures in the kitchen were less successful. Thressa said grilled cheese with jelly wasn’t award-winning.

“No one liked them,” she said. An attempt at ice cream failed to freeze properly, but the tasty mix served well as an impromptu milkshake.

Blake likes introducing his peers to food from other cultures, such as curries and from his Irish cookbook, potato pancakes. He said he plans to keep cooking after high school, but not professionally.

Wednesday, Thressa pulled shiny, black chef shoes from her backpack, part of a bevy of Jr. Iron Chef prizes that included a $500 scholarship to Paul Smith College. They’re tools she may use toward her goal of owning her own business, an animal shelter or a bakery.

Centerpoint joined South Burlington High School as the two winning Chittenden County teams.

And when I next came back to writing this…

the Vermont House of Representatives had invited the Jr Iron Chef competition winners to a day at the statehouse, to cook their award winning concoctions, observe the day’s activities from the plush seats on the dais, and receive a standing ovation with the reading of this House Concurrent Resolution:

 So as I finish writing this…

I once again reflect on all that our students can achieve, on the creativity and commitment of our staff, and on how providing educational plans that truly build upon student strengths and interests can result in remarkable outcomes for all involved.
At Centerpoint, this strength-based student-centered approach has long been a part of our alternative education services.  And we’re not alone – many public schools are using similar approaches.  We’re particularly excited by the new collaboration between the Burlington and Winooski School districts, as supported by a Nellie Mae Education Foundation planning grant, to explore the development of student-centered plans for every student in their high schools.  A grand effort indeed, however, at Centerpoint we see just how much can be accomplished with this student-centered approach to education.
To learn more about our models, methods, and strategies at the Centerpoint School, please be in touch with any or our Centerpoint School Directors:
Katie Decker – Centerpoint School, South Burlington Campus Director: 488-7731 (katied@howardcenter.org)
Jed Pauls – Centerpoint School, Winooski Campus Director: 363-7829 (jedp@howardcenter.org)
John Grimm – Centerpoint School, Clinical Director: 324-4507 (johng@howardcenter.org)
and I’d also encourage you to learn more about the exciting Winooski SD – Burlington SD initiative (http://bhs.bsdvt.org/supportingwebdocuments/press_release.pdf).
As always, please feel free to be in touch with me to share your thoughts or with other questions.
And thanks for reading,
Mitch
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