WILMINGTON -- Three middle school girls and their coach handed out spicy chipotle black bean sliders to any Twin Valley Elementary student who wanted one.
"We had to make 250 and we usually only make 18," said Brianna O'Hearn.
For one pre-k student, it was a bit too spicy. He chugged milk after commenting on its strength.
On April 29, the "Country Girls" team, the proud winners of the statewide Jr. Iron Chef "Lively Local" award, served the elementary school's student body during lunch. That award goes to the team that best highlights Vermont foods. As part of the competition, which was held in Essex Junction this year, teams are required to use Vermont foods as ingredients.
The "Country Girls" team was made up of Emily Hohn, Jocelyn Crowningshield and O'Hearn. They spent two hours the day before, preparing the sliders with eggs, black beans, refried beans, red peppers, garlic, scallions, cilantro, cumin, chipotle and bread crumbs. The sliders were then assembled and re-heated in the oven at the elementary school. An apple maple salsa was also served as an optional topping. It was made mixing salsa with maple syrup, apple juice and white grape juice.
The Jr. Iron Chef program has influenced Twin Valley students to try new foods they perhaps would not have otherwise tried.
"We like to introduce the kids to new foods, of course," said Twin Valley Schools Food Service Director Lonny Paige. "And we find that if kids cook the foods, the kids are more receptive and the whole excitement kind of bubbles over."
He believes that efforts to teach students how to cook while feeding other kids and getting them to try new things have been successful.
When the program first began, only a handful of the kids would try the Jr. Iron Chef teams' recipes.
"It was a little too out there," said Paige. "Now, they'll at least give it a shot. They all take it. To me, that's fantastic."
The slider recipe was chosen shortly after 7th and 8th grade science teacher Jessica Hammond was asked to coach the "Country Girls." Crowningshield is in Hammond's advisory group. It would mark Hammond's first year coaching. It is not likely to be her last.
Hohn told the Reformer that Hammond went on the Internet and searched for recipes that won in the past. She also looked for recipes that would be spicy and had not been done in their school yet.
"You're supposed to pick something that the judges will remember. Something that's spicy or sour or sweet," said Crowningshield.
Hammond thought the prospect of coaching looked neat. Since becoming a coach, she has noticed that math and other skills constantly improve through Jr.
Being in 6th grade, it was the first year that the "Country Girls" could compete. The team came in second place during the local Twin Valley competition in February. That surprised Hammond.
But when the statewide competition came around and the team won again, Hammond was shocked.
"It was awesome because we were the only Twin Valley School team that won. There was four teams that went," said Hohn.
Hammond told the Reformer that none of the girls missed a practice. There were six or seven before the local competition then another two or three before the statewide competition.
"They're already talking about next year," she said.
Hammond's son is in 3rd grade at the elementary school. He has told his mother that he wants to join a Jr. Iron Chef team when he's old enough.
For Twin Valley students, the Jr. Iron Chef competitions have become a rite of passage.
"When we were little, I always thought it'd be cool to be like the older kids," said Crowningshield.
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.
Twin Valley Jr Iron Chef team the Country Girls review their sliders before the elementary school kids try it