—Chairman Kaga, original Iron Chef host
As it has done in years past, Colchester Middle School will send a team of creative culinary artists to the Jr. Iron Chef Vermont event at the Champlain Valley Exposition on March 24 to compete with more than forty other middle school teams from around the state.
CMS’s Family and Consumer Science teacher Connie Gavin, who is also the district’s wellness coordinator, is mentoring the four team members in their planning and preparations, and she will accompany them to the event. In fact, this is Ms. Gavin’s fourth Jr. Iron Chef Vermont competition.
The event is based loosely upon the original Iron Chef 料理の鉄人 Japanese television cooking show, which officially ran from 1992–1999. The immensely popular show spun off a number of international editions, including Iron Chef America, Iron Chef UK, and Iron Chef Australia. All of the shows featured timed cooking events, and in that spirit, Jr. Iron Chef Vermont is also timed—teams have ninety minutes to prepare their creations for the judges.
There are quite a number of other rules and conditions for the competition; for example, teams cannot use any electric heating tool, including toaster ovens, hot plates, Crockpots/slow cookers, electric griddles, microwaves, and the like in the preparation of their dishes, and all entries are required to include a minimum of five seasonal Vermont ingredients—those that are in season in March!—provided on the day of the event. Entries containing nuts, meats, poultry, or fish are prohibited, desserts are not allowed, and water is not provided. Recipes have to be submitted and approved in advance, and once approved, they cannot be modified. The dishes, which have to be made into exact serving sizes, will be judged on taste, presentation, creativity, best use of local ingredients, and level of appropriateness for replication in school cafeterias.
Because of the number of challenges presented to the teams, the CMS group has been meeting weekly in the kitchens in the Family and Consumer Science room at CMS since January to strategize, try out recipes, and vote on the dishes they prefer for the competition.
Jr. Iron Chef Vermont is a statewide competition for students designed to provide hands-on experience preparing nutritious foods, and it is hosted by the Burlington School Food Project and Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED) … which itself is a farm-to-school program run in partnership with Food Works at Two Rivers Center, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, and Shelburne Farms. (See how interconnected our greater communities are in so many ways?) Jr. Iron Chef Vermont serves not only as a fun-filled and educational competition but also as a fundraiser for these Vermont farm-to-school programs; all of its proceeds directly support VT FEED’s programs. And it empowers students to collaborate with teachers, food service professionals, and local farmers to address the challenges of procuring nutritious food for our schools while simultaneously promoting lifelong healthy eating habits.
The CMS team was selected by the Vermont Dietetic Association for a Kids Eat Right Initiative grant, which awarded them $300 for supplies and equipment, an opportunity to be on WCAX’s “Across the Fence” program, and the opportunity to work with Deana Novembrino, a local chef and registered dietitian. Chef Deana is teaching the students a great deal; as a dietician, she has helped them to boost the nutritional content of their offerings, and the participating students are having a great time throughout the process. Some of the students have expressed interest in pursuing culinary arts as a career—so it is an opportunity for hands-on career training at the middle school level, as well.
CSD’s food service program, directed by Steve Davis, is hugely supportive of the Jr. Iron Chef Vermont initiative; the food service department is supplying many of the staples ingredients like apples, onions, and carrots, while the team’s coaches have shopped for some of the more specialized items. Jr. Iron Chef Vermont is a program designed to encourage students to help create recipes for our schools, and thus it is yet another example of a great partnership between our students and our food service group.
And finally, Mike’s Auto Parts donated a brand-new team banner for the competition!
The March 24 competition will be a fun and inspiring family event—complete with numerous farm-to-school vendors, games, and giveaways—and community members are encouraged to attend to support their teams.
That is a community-centric, intelligent event no matter how you slice (or chop or dice or julienne) it.
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