Kids cooking creativity with a side of competition

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How Westfield elementary students starred in their own “Top Chef”

Miniature “Top Chefs” are chopping, slicing and creating small masterpieces for their elementary school taste buds.

The Westfield Washington Schools third graders may not have cooked in front thousands of viewers on the small screen for a show such as “Top Chef” or “Hell’s Kitchen,” but they were competing in a cook-off in front of an eager audience filled with friends, family and their teachers at Oak Trace Elementary School as they prepared one-of-a-kind recipes as part of WWS’ Future Chef Competition.

First-place winner Grace Mayen displays her banana bouquet recipe. Mayen will prepare her snack for school lunch. (Submitted photo)

The competition began with an open invitation for all third and fourth graders to submit recipes that had three characteristics: fun, healthy and easy to prepare. This year, 16 elementary chefs sent in their edible masterpieces, and eight were selected to participate in WWS final cooking round.

The eight “future chefs” each donned a chef’s coat and hat and stood behind the stainless steel cooking tables they see every day while walking down the lunch line. The men and women who usually prepare the food behind those tables stood nearby, as the future chefs’ assistants.

Beverly Goza-Holmes, WWS food services director, said watching the contestants prepare their snacks was more entertaining than any TV show.

“Their little minds were just working, they were really into it and they were thrilled looking out in the audience to see everyone watching them compete,” she said. “We had a safety lesson before the competition, but after that they were given full reign. You could just see the confidence oozing out of them, and for some, you could see them developing a passion that could ignite a career or something they will carry with them the rest of their lives.”

As small hands nestled in plastic gloves mindfully competed to be the best overall, two brothers were competing to be the best in their family. Brothers Jack and Drew Klopfenstein were two of the eight finalists.

Second-place finisher Drew Klopfenstein shows off his yogurt pop recipe. (Submitted photo)

The brotherly competition was fun for their family, especially their mother, Abby Klopfenstein, who has had the brothers as her cooking assistants since they were four and five.

“I would sit them on the counter and help them measure ingredients and the boys would dump them in,” Abby said. “It has always been a great time to hang out as a family. One of our favorites is making homemade pizza. The boys will decorate their own mini pizzas with faces.”

Chef Mike Davis judges Drew Klopfenstein's table

Jack and Drew said they developed their cooking skills from cooking as a family, but also by watching TV as a family.
“We all watch ‘Chopped’ on Food Network [a competitive cooking reality show],” Jack said.

Jack and Drew agreed watching shows such as “Chopped” and cooking as a family helped them put new twists on classic recipes such as popsicles, for which Drew earned *second place for his yogurt popsicle filled with fruit.

Although judges thought the refreshing and healthy snack was a favorite, Drew said he was more than surprised.

“I thought I got second to last, I was confused and every time they called my name to get my second place medal everyone kept looking at me with a happy face, and I kept thinking, ‘Why is everyone looking at me,’” Drew said.

Not only did Drew’s snack catch the attention of the judges’ taste buds, but also his display table put judges’ minds in a vacation full of surf and turf.

Each finalist was required to display their snacks at their own table, where judges stopped to make their decisions. The table displays were designed to tie in with their respective recipes.

Brylee Stubbs – salad pockets, Jack Klopfenstein – cinnamon apple nachos, Nicole Adams – crazy cool caterpillars, Aria South – fruit delight, Jaala Berry – veggie flowers, Shelby Lynch – fruity rice cakes

Drew’s table looked like the perfect spot for a lounge chair and a drink topped with an umbrella. But unlike most beaches, Drew’s beach was edible.

“I crushed graham crackers to make it look like sand,” Drew said.

Goza-Holmes said programs such as Future Chef not only make for a fun event, but also teach students safety, healthy eating and even math, all while they’re having fun.

“We required the recipes to be easy to make, because we want students to be able to make their own after-school snacks. It’s healthy for their bodies, it’s healthy for their confidence and it’s healthy for their minds to know what they can accomplish,” Goza-Holmes said.

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