Students from Twin Valley Middle School and Twin Valley High School mix it up in the Junior Iron Chef Cook-off. (Chris Mays/Reformer)
Students from Twin Valley Middle School and Twin Valley High School mix it up in the Junior Iron Chef Cook-off. (Chris Mays/Reformer)
Friday December 21, 2012

WHITINGHAM -- "3-2-1-go!"

Food Service Director at Twin Valley Schools, Lonny Paige counted down the seconds to the start of the Junior Iron Chef Cook-off, a competition that took place at the Twin Valley Middle School on Thursday afternoon.

There were three winning teams out of the six teams from the Twin Valley High School and three winning teams out of the 16 teams from the middle school. There were 96 kids who were competing, all wearing red aprons. Some wore distinct costumes such as angel wings, devil horns, wizard hats and bandanas.

"The kids devise their own recipes," said Paige. "They Google ingredients and pick at least five vegetables."

The vegetables have to be locally produced. The recipes have to be kid-friendly, taste good and be able to be replicated in a cafeteria. (Quail eggs have been a rejected ingredient in the past.)

All the food has to be cooked in the auditorium at the middle school and it cannot take longer than 90 minutes.

"All my kids will produce their recipes for the school," which happens later in the school year, said Paige.

With names like Team Quikster, The Things and the Zippin Zebras, the teams made dishes such as "Quinoa Toes," veggie-filled crepes and nine-layered veggie tortilla.

Children were involved in the process by grating, peeling, cutting and mixing. Adults helped children out with preparation, too.


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Abbie Nelson, from Vermont Food Education Every Day, believes this is a good way to get kids to eat local and healthy foods. Vermont FEED was created 12 years ago by three non-profit organizations that collaborated to promote foods going from farm to schools.

"We started this six years ago with the Burlington Food Project. The object of the game was getting kids to change by getting them involved," said Nelson.

She also mentioned that they got permission from the actual Iron Chef to call it "Junior Iron Chef."

From the beginning, Paige was able to attract almost 100 kids to the competition.

"This is the majority of the school here today," said Nelson.

Judges were onstage, behind a curtain, taking samples of the prepared dishes before or just after the hour and a half was up. Contestants had adults bring the dishes to the judges onstage.

Todd Darrah, a chef at the Chelsea Royal Diner in Brattleboro, entered his sixth competition on Thursday with his second daughter who's been involved in the cook-offs over the years. The name of their team was Team Deliciousness and they made Pot Pie Shortcake. Cranberry sauce was used as the cherry on top.

"It's fun because it's my passion," said Darrah. "But for these kids, it's a good life skills lesson. They know food. They taste the differences."

He thought it was good to see young children from the middle school involved in the cooking competition.

Paige told the Reformer that seven teams from his competitions have won in Burlington. This is going on to be his sixth year running the local competition.

Winners of this cook-off will compete at Champlain Valley Exhibit in Burlington on Feb. 2, where there are 75 teams competing from around the state. There will be a morning and an afternoon session of cook-offs.

Paige will travel with children and parents and stay at a nearby hotel.

"It's a big deal," said Nelson. "We have kids who are not into sports, have never been on a team, never cooked or ate these foods. Now, they're eating foods that they never would have. It changes their lives."

For more information, visit: Jrironchefvt.org.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.