Tucked away in the back corner of Fort Meade's Teen Center, four young chefs frantically worked to prepare breakfast in a crammed -- and sometimes smoky -- kitchen.

In teams of two, the teens worked in the tight space for 45 minutes on Monday before displaying their culinary creations for the judges who would determine the best breakfast.

Monday's meal was a preliminary round in the Teen Center's inaugural "Teen Top Chef," a three-day competition that pitted four teams of area teens against each other in head-to-head cook-offs.

"The whole competition is fun," said Troy Brown, a competing chef. "You get to see different people cooking different things."

Charles Burrell, a program assistant at the Teen Center, said the teens were excited to compete in the contest and were eager to try something new.

"We're trying to find different ways to engage their passions," he said.

Troy, who said he doesn't normally cook at home, signed up because he "just wanted to have fun." The competition did, however, included experienced cooks such as 17-year-old Natalie Ruiz, a regular in the Teen Center kitchen.

"I love to cook," Natalie said. "I'm always cooking at home."

The competition began Monday and Tuesday with preliminary rounds in which contestants had 45 minutes to complete a breakfast meal. Much like cooking competition shows on television, teams were given the same ingredients and had to determine what to cook based on what was given to them.

"They can make whatever they want," Burrell said.

Competitors said determining what to make wasn't too difficult and stuck with recipes they knew.

"I knew how to make everything they had up there," said Troy, who cooked grits, eggs and sausage, and mixed in strawberries to his final product.

While familiar recipes allowed contestants to quickly decide what to make, they still had to adapt to working in the tight kitchen and within the time limit.

"It was a little stressful," Natalie said. "It was like, 'We have to do this, we have to do that.' It was a race."

At the end of the time limit, the concoctions were judged by various Child, Youth and School Services staff members with the top team advancing to the finals on Wednesday.

In the finals, the time limit was extended to an hour as the top two teams prepared a dinner with such ingredients as chicken, rice and pasta.

Burrell said the competition provides more than just an opportunity to learn how to cook.

"This will teach them the ability to adapt, not be to afraid of losing and to be able to do something else," he said.

Editor's note: Winners were announced Wednesday after press time.