"Country Girls" team member Brianna O’Hearn prepares sliders at Essex Junction state-wide Jr. Iron Chief competition. (submitted photo)
"Country Girls" team member Brianna O'Hearn prepares sliders at Essex Junction state-wide Jr. Iron Chief competition. (submitted photo)

WHITINGHAM -- Every year, selected teams from the Twin Valley School District go to a statewide Jr. Iron Chief competition.

"In the competition, we want to come up with recipes that will kind of explode in the mouth and give it some pop," said Twin Valley Schools Food Service Director Lonny Paige. "The judges are tasting all these foods. It might be really good but if it's heavy, they'll kind of go over the top of it. They've tasted so many things, it will blend in."

This year's statewide event was held on March 22 in Essex Junction.

For the middle school morning heat, Twin Valley's "Country Girls" team won the "Lively Local" award. This goes to the team that best highlights Vermont foods. Part of the annual competition requires participants to use a certain amount of Vermont foods in each recipe in order to qualify.

The team was made up of three sixth-grade girls coached by science teacher Jessica Hammond -- Jocelyn Crowningshield, Brianna O'Hearn and Emily Hohn.

"This team in particular was so dedicated. They were practicing as often as they could. It was really neat to see them grow the recipe and dive right into the whole situation," said Paige. "It was very fulfilling that they got to go to Essex Junction. The 11- and 12-year-old girls hadn't done it before. To see them immerse themselves and win was gratifying for me. I'm sure it was thrilling for them.


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Before the competition, members of the team searched Google for food competition recipes and found spicy, chipotle black bean sliders. The recipe was changed a little bit from its original, which was posted by students from Plattsburgh, N.Y..

When Hammond was asked to coach the team, Paige told her she should do it.

"I said, 'Absolutely. You ought to do it. You're missing a slice of life if you don't coach Jr. Iron Chief at least once,'" he advised.

The award that her team ended up winning was essentially second place in the overall tournament that had included 45 teams altogether. There were 30 teams competing in the middle school portion alone. Teams from Leland & Gray as well as Brattleboro were at the event.

"Southern Vermont had some pretty decent representation, which is not usually the case," said Paige.

The Twin Valley competition on Feb. 12 had 17 teams competing at the elementary school in Wilmington. There were 11 teams from the Middle School and six from the high school.

"From there we narrowed it down to two teams from the middle school and two from the high school to go to Essex Junction," said Paige.

"Getting out of our school is a feat.

"Country Girls" team members, from left, Jocelyn Crowningshield, Brianna O’Hearn, Emily Hohn and coach Jessica Hammond receive "Lively
"Country Girls" team members, from left, Jocelyn Crowningshield, Brianna O'Hearn, Emily Hohn and coach Jessica Hammond receive "Lively Local" award. (submitted photo)
Then getting the award up there was just wonderful. It was great."

He mentioned three rules for making recipes for the Jr. Iron Chief competitions: The kids have got to like it; it has to be fairly simple to create; and it will cut through heavy flavors.

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