This past Wednesday, March 6, things were really heating up in the LaBelle Elementary School cafeteria for the 2019 Future Chefs National Challenge presented by the Hendry County Schools Food Service Department. A panel of distinguished judges seated on the stage, watching ravenously, as the kids worked hard to prepare the recipes they had chosen for the competition. From a delicious Spanish Omelet that was skillfully prepared by kid chef, Esmeralda Samario-Gomez from County Oaks Elementary, to the innovative Burrito Zucchini Boats created by the focused cook, Veana Lewis, of Central Elementary, the “Healthy Mexican Food” theme was well-represented.
During the competition, the kitchen was a buzz of activity. Navigating their way through the competition with their traditional toque blanches (tall, white chefs hats) falling into their eyes and the loss of tactile perception due to the extremely oversized food safety gloves bunching up on their fingers, these kid chefs remained determined and focused. LaBelle Elementary School’s own, Robert Kingman, was busily rinsing cilantro and draining black beans, while Maricela Asencio, from County Oaks Elementary, was seen checking on her Healthy Mexican Casserole, roasting in the oven. Slices of sweet potatoes, hot and crisp, were seasoned and then placed into fresh-made guacamole, by Macaylee Pardo, also from Country Oaks. Upthegrove Elementary School’s competitor, Izabelle Chance, carefully seasoned and sautéed her chicken to perfection. Chance’s Cilantro Lime Chicken Taco Salad was coming together nicely.
Each contestant had the task of creating sample cups for the judges to taste, served alongside their main presentation dish. As each of the delectable plates were brought up for display, ‘oohs’ and ‘aaahhs’ were heard from the hungry families seated in the audience. Gracelyn Alford, of Central Elementary, appeared somewhat nervous as she presented her Tex-Mex Dip to the panel of judges, and upon sampling the dish, satisfying smiles spread across each of their faces. The judges tried each dish, asking questions as they went. The future chefs stood in front of the panel, describing the ingredients they used and how they were prepared. When judges began tasting the Taco Fiesta, made by Emily Sanchez of East Side Elementary, they asked her if the tortillas were baked or fried. “Just cooked,” replied Sanchez.
The judges retired into the back of the kitchen, to discuss the entries and choose a winner, a hard decision for sure. Our reining Swamp Cabbage Queen, Brooke White, was there to provide judge interviews, witty commentary, and even entertain the crowd while they anxiously awaited the judges’ decision. As always, Brooke was the picture of grace and beauty. When the judging was finally complete, and everyone returned to the stage, each child received a certificate and medal for their hard work. Then, Devin Boe, judge and past winner of the Future Chef competition presented a pristine, white, double-breasted chef’s jacket to the winner, Dalton Mcilwain, also known as “Magic D” in his kitchen at home. Mcilwain is a 4th grader from Central Elementary who made an awesome Southwest Quesadilla with corn and black bean salsa and topped with sour cream.
Congrats, Magic D.!