Fort Campbell students sizzle in the kitchen
On April 11, Fort Campbell High School junior Shawn Rios prepares cucumbers for a dish that was featured in a competition for the School Junior Chef Program. On May 22, the FCHS junior chef team won the regional competition, held at the Christian County Cooperative Extension Education Center in Hopkinsville. The participants' recipes will debut in the school lunch line.

HOPKINSVILLE, Ky. -- A group of Fort Campbell students sizzled in the kitchen, May 22, when the high school's Junior Chef Team won the regional competition held at the Christian County Cooperative Extension Education Center in Hopkinsville.

Competing against Trigg County High School, team members of the newly-formed Falcons' team were unsure of who would take the top chef prize.

"It was awesome," explained Jessica Rodriguez, FCHS senior. "I wasn't sure because I tasted the other team's food, and it was all really, really good."

For this competition, the team worked on preparing recipes that they perfected over the course of the last few months: a fire roasted chili and a spicy corn bread, along with a watermelon and berry salad. The chili recipe is one FCHS Cafeteria Manager and Junior Chef Coach Barbara McConnell plans on incorporating into the lunch menu next year.

Before the award-winning recipe debuts in the school lunch line, Junior Chef participants have one more chance to showcase their abilities -- this time at the state level -- when regional winners convene in Louisville to take part in the Kentucky State Fair, Aug. 19.

"We're not going to change our recipe, because we want that to be on our menu next year. So it's a chili, but it's a healthy chili and delicious as well, so that's what we want," explained McConnell, a former caterer. "So we're going to do the same thing. We tweaked the recipe a little bit just to scale back a few things."

One Falcons senior is savoring the extra-sweet regional win, as attending Basic Training this summer prevents him from accompanying the team to the next level of competition. For Brandon Benson, joining this team was not just about learning cooking skills, but making lasting connections during his final year of high school.

"It's been just an enlightening experience," he said.

"You learn different things, and you kind of meet people, who you see all year but you actually [haven't] talked to or anything like that, so I think it gives you an opportunity for that. I think that any opportunity [you have] to improve yourself, you should take it."

In terms of cooking, the FCHS graduate also discovered a dash of patience can be the key ingredient.

"I learned that you can never take too much time to try to prepare and do something," Benson said. "Because the more the time you take into and put into it, the better it's going to come out."

For fellow senior Bryan Lopez, a team alternate, the process thus far has given him valuable life skills that attained only after becoming a part of the Junior Chef program.

"It was really awesome," he said of being a part of the team. "I'm not really much of a cook, but it's fun to learn… Winning was really an awesome thing, because I really didn't know how to cook coming in, so I learned a lot."

Other Fort Campbell students on the Falcons Junior Chef team this year include sophomores Essence Nelson and Shawn Rios, as well as junior Christiana Crawford. In addition to McConnell's guidance, the students have been mentored by Chef Sam Bennett, member of Clarksville's Clifton T. Stanfill American Culinary Federation Chapter.

The Junior Chef Program launched statewide this year as a part of Farm to School, hosted by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The nature of the competitive program is meant to help students hone skills in food preparation and recipe development, as well as community involvement and teamwork.

All recipes created by Junior Chef teams adhere to National School Lunch Program guidelines and are judged based on taste, appearance, creativity, ease and use of local ingredients.

"Cooking is a very rewarding avenue, and I think that everybody should learn how to cook, at least something other than a bowl of cereal," Rodriguez added.

Page last updated Fri June 7th, 2013 at 00:00