19 March 2014 - by DigInVT Staff

Junior Iron Chef this Weekend

Vermont has plenty of chefs inventing new recipes to highlight local ingredients every day, and we can enjoy the results of their work whenever we choose to venture out for restaurant dining (particularly using the DigInVT map. . . ). But there's one highly sought after source of local food inspiration that's not so easy for the average Vermont diner to find: the local dishes that are appearing in school cafeterias. . . particularly menu items that students help invent. This Saturday, the public has a chance to observe school-based local foods creativity at the 7th annual Junior Iron Chef competition.

In 2008, Vermont Food Education Every Day (VT FEED, a partnership of NOFA-VT, Shelburne Farms, and, at the time, Food Works at Two Rivers Center) and the Burlington School Food Project (BSFP) founded one of the first youth culinary competitions to focus on local food and school meals. The idea was simple - teams of middle and high school students would invent original recipes using local ingredients and then prepare them for a panel of judges. The response was tremendous- participation has more than doubled since that first year, with 270 students on 64 teams signed up for this year's contest. And the recipes sound very tasty. Rainbow Root Latkes with Apple Compote, Rootin'-Tootin' Root Veggie and Black Bean Burritos with Basil Tortillas and Zesty Yogurt Sauce, and Maple Spiced Apple and Goat Cheese Crepes are just a few of the dishes on this year’s menu. 

The student teams are competing to have their dishes featured in the Vermont statehouse and on school menus across the state. While teams may be focused on winning this Saturday, preparing for this competition can create greater, lasting impacts on schools and students.

“Junior Iron Chef VT helps us create school programs that do more than teach cooking skills, recipe development, and local sourcing,” said Lonny Paige, Twin Valley Schools Food Service Director and the coach of three 2013 winning teams. “It teaches our students how they can contribute to community. Our kids are now culinary role models, initiating demonstrations and cooking local farm-fresh foods within Twin Valley schools and for organizations like the Brattleboro Hospice.”

Cooking is so popular at Twin Valley that they had their own competition, with almost 100 students entered, to determine who would defend their school's title this year.

Do you want to see what the excitment is about? The 7th Annual Junior Iron Chef VT will take place from 9:00am to 3:30pm and will be held at the Champlain Valley Expo Center in Essex Junction, VT. Cost for attendance is $3 for an individual, $5 for a family.

Junior Iron Chef VT is sponsored by School Nutrition Association of Vermont, Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets, G.housen, Circulon gourmet cookware, Blodgett, and WCAX. For more information, please visit www.jrironchefvt.org.