Sunday, May 25, 2014

Missoula County Public Schools Cook-off

Last month I had the honor of serving as a judge in the 1st Annual Missoula County Public Schools Student Culinary Competition.  Students from Big Sky, Sentinel and Hellgate High Schools gathered early at the University of Montana to fire up their induction burners and show off original recipes.  Awaiting the winning team was $1000 for their school's culinary program, a chef's kit for each team member and the satisfaction of seeing their meal served to students throughout Missoula. 

The event was sponsored by Garden City Harvest, FoodCorps and UM Dining.  I got involved in the competition as a member of the Garden City Harvest community.  

The competition was the brainchild of Peter Kerns, an ebullient FoodCorps service member who works with the MCPS Central Kitchen and Garden City Harvest's Farm to School program.  Peter organized the event and secured donations from local businesses and prize money from UM Dining.  He also jumped in to MC in place of Mayor John Engen, who was indisposed due to a family emergency.  

Students had 2 hours to complete their dishes and present them to the judges for tasting.  Each team's start time was staggered by 15 minutes so there was time to taste and discuss each dish before moving on.  

Photos courtesy of Genevieve Jessop Marsh
Each team included a coach from their school and Missoula College's Culinary Arts provided mentors but only students were allowed to cook.  Their dishes had to be savory entrees fit for a school cafeteria.

The teams were graded on the basis of the following criteria: 1. Overall flavor, quality, texture and doneness, 2. Presentation, 3. Creative use of local ingredients, 4. Nutritional value.   

My fellow judges were way more experienced in food systems than I and it was an enjoyable education to work with them.  They were:  Dick Williams, Assistant Cook and Farm to Table Program Assistant for MCPS, Rebecca Wade, Director of Health and Sustainability for UM Dining, and Ed Christensen, Assistant Supervisor for MCPS Food Service. 


Team Big Sky whipped up a delicious baked dish named Pasta Tsuber after one of the chefs.  Just about everything that went into Pasta Tsuber was grown and made in Montana- the egg noodles, ground beef, spices and cheese.  They plated this lasagna-like square of pasta with a side of garlic bread made with MT pickled garlic.  

Team Sentinel built a piece of flatbread from scratch and covered it with tender chunks of chicken, colby-jack cheese, onion, herbs, homemade yogurt ranch dressing and julienned strips of red, green and gold peppers soaked in ice water til they curled.  

Team Hellgate dazzled the eyes and taste buds with a Sweet Honey Dijon Chicken and Forbidden Rice: three ounces of perfectly cooked chicken breast (and that's not easy to do) awash in a golden honey-mustard-pineapple sauce atop a purple-black mound of forbidden rice.    

The grand prize went to Team Sentinel for their Peppy Chicken Flat Bread.

Team Sentinel

Hellgate took second place and received $500 and Big Sky came in third, receiving a check for $250.  Each of the dishes was so well executed that it was decided they all will be featured on the MCPS K-12 lunch menu.  

It was a treat to be involved in this event and to see students working hard and cooking together.  Judging by their enthusiasm, it was a rewarding experience for them as well. 

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