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Kayla Mitchell

By Heidi Sutton

Teamwork was the key ingredient at this year’s Junior Iron Chef competition. The annual event, now in its 7th year, was held on March 9 at Whole Foods in Lake Grove. Hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the one-day cooking challenge, described as “part ‘Chopped,’ part ‘Iron Chef,’ and part ‘Food Network Challenge,’” gave middle and high school students the opportunity to work in groups of three to five to complete a delicious dish of their choosing in under an hour. Fifteen teams from all over Long Island competed this year for the ultimate title of Junior Iron Chef.

“This is an amazing event,” said DJ Anthony Cafaro, from WEHM, who has served as the event’s emcee since its inception. “It’s cool to see some repeat competitors from year’s past and it’s awesome to see a lot of new competitors here,” he said.

The purpose of the event was to encourage budding chefs to learn new cooking skills and lead a healthier lifestyle while promoting the use of local food to support our local farmers and environment. Each team was required to  create a new healthy vegetarian or vegan based recipe that used local ingredients and could be easily implemented into school cafeteria menus.

“This is the seventh year I’ve done this and by far this was the greatest year with the best flavors,” said Cafaro as he tasted all the dishes.

Celebrity chefs Kayla Mitchell and William Connor helped judge the event last Saturday.

Among the 11 judges who graded the dishes based on flavor, health value, creativity and presentation was 14-year-old William Connor from Northport, a past contestant on “Chopped Junior” on the Food Network,  and 13-year-old Kayla Mitchell of Center Moriches who was a contestant on the third season of “MasterChef Junior” on Fox Broadcasting.

High school teams were given a secret ingredient at the last minute, a Sumo Citrus, to incorporate into their dish. Some chose to use the peel, others the juice. While the teams created their dishes, Cafaro kept the ever-growing crowd entertained with fun trivia and giveaways to places like the Long Island Aquarium and concerts.

While the judges deliberated, Executive Chef Jason Keubler and Anthony Cafaro visited each station, tasting each dish and giving feedback to the aspiring chefs. While Cafaro raved over everything that was put in front of him, Keubler gave positive feedback, from “These eggs are spot on,” “Flavors are very balanced,” “Great knife skills,” to pointing out the cleanliness of their workstation and asking them what their greatest obstacle was. “It’s all about teamwork and it shows in your work,” he complimented one team.

First place in the middle school division went to Team G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) from Seneca Middle School in Holbrook. Students Leah Ferraro, Sofia Iacono, Jacqueline Volo and Gianna Scolaro, guided by coach Robert Frontino, won the judges over with their creative Caribbean Breakfast Salad, which was comprised of cinnamon sugared French toast, grilled pineapple and arugula salad with goat cheese, topped with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing.

“That’s insanely good,” drooled Cafaro as he reached for a napkin. “The cinnamon and the goat cheese go so well together,” agreed Chef Jason. “The color is super vibrant, the spiciness goes with the sweetness with nice textures. Beautiful presentation,” he said adding that he was impressed by how nicely they worked together “just like in a professional kitchen.”

Second place was awarded to The 3 Breakfasteers from Suffolk County 4-H Trailblazers of Yaphank for their Vanilla Fruit Crepes filled with whipped cream and diced strawberries and garnished with blueberries. Corey Burke, Alexis Vladikin, Nora Nemickas and coach Nicole Vickovich made up the team.

The Junior Porters from Greenport Union Free School District grabbed third place for their Mediterranean Breakfast Crepe with an Herbed Whipped Cream. Coached by Katherine Ryan, Rocio Azama, DeShawn Solla, Aleyana Gungar, Ayania Smith and Brynn Dinizio were awarded for their healthy crepe stuffed with baby spinach, sundried tomatoes, black olives and low-fat feta cheese.

Team Almost Master Chef from Sachem North High School in Ronkonkoma captured first place in the high school division. Kaitlyn Seitz, Hailey McKishi, Kayla Salvate and Victoria Corcaran, under the guidance of coach Lindsey Shelhorse, impressed the judges with their Brunch For Lunch Chilaquiles dish featuring homemade tortilla shells topped with fried egg, cheese, onion and cilantro.

Second place was awarded to the Greenport High School’s Bacon Bits – Jhon Ramirez, Tommy Tsaveras, Colin Rossetti, Mateo Arias and Charles Staples – for their Gyro Style Veggie Burger on Whole Wheat Pita, which was served with sautéed onions and tzatziki sauce with a cucumber garnish. The team was coached by Marianne Ladalia.

The Salt Shakers from the Suffolk County 4-H Trailblazers garnered third place. Olivia Unger and Lexington Carrera, under the guidance of coach Adrienne Unger, were given high marks for their crispy Potato Latkes topped with a dollop of sour cream and garnished with chives and scallions.

The Mise en Place (everything in its place) awards were presented to Seneca Middle School’s Taco Bellas (Emma Bollinger, Amanda Madigan, Madeline Turano and Adrianna Sigler with coach Robert Frontino) and Almost Master Chef.

The Public Presentation awards, for the team with the best poster/informational display and judge presentation, were presented to G.O.A.T. and Bacon Bits.

“The kids today were just tremendous,” said Vito Minei, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. “This is truly a Long Island Junior Iron Chef competition with teams coming all the way from Floral Park, Franklin Square and Greenport,” he added. “I want to thank all the parents and families.You should be proud. These kids were fabulous. They all practiced teamwork and each child had an opportunity to shine.”

Brunch for Lunch Chilaquiles 

by Team Almost Top Chef, first place winners in the high school division

Ingredients

Tortilla Shell

10.5 ounces of all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup vegetable oil

7-8 ounces of hot water (110-120F)

Sauce

Diced yellow onion

Diced and seeded jalapeño

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon ground chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3 tablespoons flour

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon salt, to taste

Pinch of cinnamon

Can of tomato paste

2 cups vegetable broth

1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Filling and Topping Ingredients

Can of drained and rinsed black beans

12 oz. Fiesta Blend Cheese (365 Everyday Value Brand)

3 oz. cotija

Diced red onion

Cilantro

6 Eggs

Directions

 Instructions for sauce

  1. Sauté the diced onion and jalapenos to the pan.
  2. Crush and smash cloves of garlic and salt and add to the onion mixture.  Add the cumin and chili powder.  Add the flour, oregano, garlic powder and salt into a small bowl and place it near the stove.
  3. Add the flour/spice mixture.
  4. While whisking constantly, cook until fragrant and slightly deepened in color, about 1 minute. Whisk the tomato paste into the mixture, then slowly pour in the broth while whisking constantly to remove any lumps.
  5. Raise heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook, whisking often, for about 5 to 7 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat, then whisk in the vinegar and season to taste with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Add more salt, if necessary.
  7. Stir in the black beans

Instructions for tortillas

To make the dough: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Pour in the lesser amount of hot water (plus the oil, if you’re using it), and stir briskly with a fork or whisk to bring the dough together into a shaggy dough.Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly, just until the dough forms a ball. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Round the pieces into balls, flatten slightly, and allow them to rest, covered, for about 15 minutes.  Preheat ungreased cast iron griddle or skillet over medium high heat, about 400°F. Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll into a round about 8″ in diameter. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Fry the tortilla in the ungreased pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Then cut into wedges and fry them and add salt to taste.

Assembling

Fry the eggs. Layer the fried tortilla shell with spoonful of sauce and cheese.  Top with the fried egg, more cheese, dice red onion and cilantro.

Caribbean Breakfast Salad

By Team G.O.A.T., first place winners in the middle school division

Ingredients

16 oz of arugula

8 oz of goat cheese

2 boxes of raspberries (7 oz. each)

1 pineapple

1 loaf challah bread

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/4 tsp. oregano

1/4 cup white vinegar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup white sugar

1/4 cinnamon

4 eggs

2 tbsp honey

Directions

Challah French Toast

Preheat skillet to 350 degrees. Mix eggs in large bowl. In a separate bowl mix sugars and cinnamon. Dip the challah bread slices into egg mixture and then the sugar blend. Cook until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes.

Arugula Salad

Mix oil, vinegar, honey and mustard and whip until blended. Strain the raspberries. Add raspberry juice to oil mixture until smooth to taste. Toss arugula, whole raspberries and cheese together with liquid dressing.

Pineapple

Cut outside skin of pineapple. Cut one inch horizontal slices. Dip in sugar mixture. Grill on both sides for 2 to 3 minutes.

All photos by Heidi Sutton

By Kevin Redding

Students from across Long Island donned their aprons and unleashed their inner Bobby Flay’s and Julia Child’s last Saturday for a chance to win big at the fifth annual Junior Iron Chef competition at Whole Foods in Lake Grove.

Set up like a high-stakes Food Network show, middle and high school students from various Suffolk and Nassau County school districts treated the cafeteria section of Whole Foods as their cooking arena, with each team of three to five young chefs chopping and sauteing their ingredients, divvying up their tasks in an assembly line of excitement and nerves in their attempt to beat the clock.

WEHM DJ Anthony Cafaro tastes Team Wholly Guacamole’s dish titled Avocado’s dish. Photo by Kevin Redding

As a group of judges surveyed each workstation and breakfast and lunch foods sizzled in the pans, a large crowd of supportive parents, grandparents, siblings and strangers cheered on their team of choice. All the while, DJ Anthony Cafaro, from WEHM, served as the event’s emcee, interviewing the chefs at work and taste-testing each team’s dish. “Oh my God, that’s really good,” Cafaro said as he took a bite of a middle school team’s Breakfast Sushi, a crepe packed with strawberry filling and bananas and served with chopsticks. “You know what, you can’t really tell from the first bite,” he winked as he ate some more.

Hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the one-day event, described as “part ‘Chopped,’ part ‘Iron Chef,’ and part ‘Food Network Challenge,’” gives middle and high school students the opportunity to work together to complete a recipe of their choosing in under an hour.

As per tradition, the friendly competition also encourages healthier food options by eliminating certain ingredients like meat, fish or nuts and challenging the young chefs to create new healthy vegetarian or vegan-based recipes, including United States Department of Agriculture commodity foods like beans, grains, fruits and vegetables, that use local ingredients provided by Whole Foods and could be easily implemented into school cafeteria menus.

A team from Sewanhaka High School prepares a dish during the competition. Photo by Kevin Redding

According to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s 4-H youth Development Director Vicki Fleming, who helped get the event off the ground seven years ago, “If you handed a salad to a kid they might not eat it, but if they make it, it might entice them to try it.” Fleming said she got the idea for the event from a similar junior chef competition that’s been taking place in Vermont for more than 10 years. When Gary Graybosch, prepared foods team leader at Whole Foods, took his department on an educational field trip to Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Suffolk County Farm in Yaphank, members of the organization said they expressed an interest in holding such an event but were unable to find the proper location. It didn’t take long before Graybosch volunteered the cafe section of the store.

“This is great for the community, the kids love it and the parents love it,” Graybosch said. “It teaches the kids how to work together and teaches them how to communicate because they’re not just texting each other, they actually have to speak [to each other] when they’re cooking, so it’s good.”

The 13 middle school teams that competed in the first competition round had to create a breakfast dish while the eight high school teams in the second round had to concoct a lunch dish and implement the event’s mystery ingredient — raspberries — revealed on the day of the event by Graybosch. Elementary school students set up their own tables of treats and smoothies around the store as well. Cafaro, who’s emceed the event since it started, said after the first year he told the organization he’d “do this forever.”

“It’s so great, the kids are unbelievable, they’re doing stuff I can’t even do, and the pro chefs they have as judges are even blown away by some of the skill and levels of talent they have,” he said. “When we started this, there was no real big kid competitions and now there are so many of them — it’s kind of blowing up.”

The judges take some notes as they make their rounds in the cooking arena. Photo by Kevin Redding

Among the 12 judges who graded the dishes based on flavor, health value, creativity and presentation was 14-year-old William Connor from Northport, a contestant on “Chopped Junior” this past fall, and 13-year-old Kayla Mitchell of Center Moriches who was a contestant on the third season of “MasterChef Junior.”

Seneca Middle School’s team Super Fresh Breakfast Boyz from Holbrook won first place for the middle schools for the second year in a row for their Guacamole Sunrise Stack. Students Andrew Battelli, John Durkin, Dom Strebel, Nick Strebel and Hunter Ziems and coach Mary Faller made up the team. Despite a griddle shutting off in the middle of the competition,  Durkin said he and his team were able to persevere. “We had to work together to get through that and we managed to come together and cook it and it came out good,” he said. “[The experience] was very fun overall. We met up and practiced from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. every morning before school for about a month and  half.”

Wholly Guacamole from Sagamore Middle School took second place. Students Molly Grow, Sydney Harmon, Emily Mangan, Sara Ann Mauro, Abigail Weiss, guided by coach Lindsey Shelhorse, won the judges over as runners up with their Avocado’s Nest.

Cow Harbor 4-H Club’s Original French Toasters also grabbed third place with their Banana French Toast with Fruit Syrup. Coached by Kim Gulemi, students Emily Brunkard, Jolie Fay, Ally Gulemi, Alexa Meinen and Stephanie Stegner were awarded for their blend of blueberries, strawberries, syrup and whipped cream.

The Tiger Lilies of Little Flower in Wading River took first place for the high schools for the second year in a row. Coached by  Jennifer Quinlan, students Gianna D’arcangelo, Russell Diener and Alex Mora won with their Lentil Quinoa Kale Broth Bowl. The dish featured a blend of onion, garlic, celery, carrots and tomatoes.

From H. Frank Carey High School in Franklin Square, the Red Hot Chili Peppers secured the second place spot with their Vegetarian Chili. Students Lynn Abby M. Bigord, Akira Jordan, Isabella Legovich and coach Alexandra Andrade made up the team.

Coming in third place were Babylon High School’s BHS Foodies, the ultimate competition underdogs, with their Lentil Shepherd’s Pie. Consisting of Sean Cosgro, Emilie Leibstein, Sophia Levine-Aquino, Hayley Swaine and coach Jenna Schwartz, the team showed up not realizing they had to bring their own equipment. So they approached Graybosch and asked if they could borrow “a pot, pan, chef knife, peeler, and pretty much everything,” according to Cosgro. “We felt so unprepared and so we were so surprised that we placed,” Cosgro said. “I made a lot of ‘Rocky’ references to my group the entire time, saying ‘I feel like we’re the complete underdogs, we’re sort of inexperienced, and this’ll be our ‘Rocky’ moment if we win.’”

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