Columbia Heights (CH) High School Cafeteria, 1400 49th Ave. NE, looked more like an episode of Fox’s MasterChef Junior on Thursday, Feb. 23 as eight elementary students from three Columbia Heights Public Schools (CHPS) competed in the Future Chefs Culinary Competition.
The event was sponsored by Sodexo, a food services and facilities management company, and was the first of its kind to be held in Columbia Heights schools. According to Lauryn Grimes, communications specialist for CHPS, it won’t be the last.
A few weeks before the competition, elementary students received a culinary competition entry form and were asked to submit a healthy comfort food recipe. “Comfort food makes our bellies and our brains feel good and satisfied,” said general manager for Sodexo CHPS and certified executive chef from the American Culinary Federation, Jeffrey Coleman. “The healthy recipes we were looking for incorporated as many of these food groups as possible: whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and dairy.”
From the submissions, nine student chefs (three from each CH elementary school) were chosen to participate in the Iron-Chef-style competition. (Only eight of the nine competed.) With an hour to prepare their recipes, the student chefs hurried to make a presentation plate and small portions for the judges (Superintendent Kathy Kelly and others from CHPS) to taste. About 45 of the students friends and family watched with anticipation.
“Five judges took notes and spoke to the chefs while they prepared their recipes,” said Coleman. “The judges wrote down scores for originality, healthy attributes, ease of preparation, kid-friendliness, taste and preparation, and then the final tabulation to select third, second and the first place district champion.”
Third place went to Paola Caizapanta, North Park Elementary, for her spring rolls; Second place went to Allison Taday, Valley View Elementary, for her strawberry and plantain pancakes; First place went to fifth-grader Jade Ramnarine, Highland Elementary, for her “mouthwatering” crepes. Every student chef went home with a medal and a gift bag full of culinary supplies.
Ramnarine will go on to compete in the regional competition in May, where her recipe will be a candidate for the national competition.
Below: Student chefs stand proudly behind their creations before the awards. Pictured from left to right: Fifth grade Highland Elementary students, Jade Ramnarine, Mya Sinchi and Caroline Raleigh. North Park Elementary students, Olivia Mehren, third grade, and Paola Caizapanta, fourth grade. Third grade Valley View Elementary students, Emily Melendez, Alex Meredith, and second grader Allison Xiomara Taday.
Third grader Olivia Mehren made a chicken and veggie pesto dish with noodles. “The recipe came from a similar dish that we’ve made at home. But just kind of added our own twist to it,” her mother Crystal Mehren said. Crystal said Olivia started helping in the kitchen more this last year and has learned a lot from her grandmother. “I thought the competition was such a neat experience. I wish that they had that when I was her age,” said Crystal. Olivia said she will definitely continue cooking in the future. “I really enjoyed the cooking part of the whole competition and being able to participate,” said Olivia. (Photo by Liz Jensen)
Fifth grader Jade Ramnarine from Highland Elementary poses with her trophy after being named District Champion and winning first place in the competition. She also received a Fitbit, drone, Future Chef logo backpack, culinary supplies and games.
“It feels really great…I was nervous at first,” said Ramnarine who hopes to become a chef one day. “[I want to be a chef because] of the challenges and
new recipes.” (Photo by Liz Jensen)