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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.
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Katie Decker – Centerpoint School, South Burlington Campus Director: 488-7731 (firstname.lastname@example.org)Jed Pauls – Centerpoint School, Winooski Campus Director: 363-7829 (email@example.com)John Grimm – Centerpoint School, Clinical Director: 324-4507 (firstname.lastname@example.org)