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BREAD BREAKING CEREMONY

Representatives from the Northeast Regional division of Whole Foods held an official bread breaking ceremony (their version of a ribbon cutting) for its new store in Commack on April 3. Located at 120 Veterans Memorial Highway, the new 45,000-square-foot store employs 200 full- and part-time team members and is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

The Whole Foods in Lake Grove, above, will soon be joined by a second Suffolk County store. File photo

Suffolk County is getting a second Whole Foods Market. The new store, located at the site of the former King Kullen at 120 Veterans Memorial Highway in Commack will hold a grand opening on April 3 at 9 a.m. with complimentary coffee and breakfast pastries offered at 8 a.m. Reusable canvas shopping bags will be handed out to the first 200 customers.

The market will be the fourth Whole Foods location on Long Island. The others are in Jericho, Manhasset and Lake Grove.

“We’re eager to open our doors to the Commack community,” said store team leader Lorraine Barker in a statement. “We look forward to providing our customers with a variety of products to meet all of their needs, while also offering the highest quality service and providing a neighborhood gathering space.”

According to a press release, the new 45,000-square-foot store will offer fresh produce, full-service butcher and seafood departments; an in-house bakery; a hot and cold prepared foods section; coffee and juice bars; beer from local producers; and 142 bins of bulk scoop items. It will also feature a fast-casual eatery that will serve wine and locally brewed beer on tap.

Owned by online retail giant Amazon, the Commack store will employ a total of 200 full- and part-time team members. Following the grand opening, store hours will be 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. For more information, visit www.wholefoodsmarket.com.

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.’”

Local students took Whole Foods in Lake Grove by storm as they chopped, sauteed and cooked their morning away for a chance at the top spot at last Saturday’s fourth annual Junior Iron Chef competition.

Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension hosted the one-day event where middle and high school students showed off their cooking skills in groups of three to five. Twenty-four teams from schools and other organizations had one hour to cook a vegetarian or vegan-based dish that they could incorporate in their school cafeteria menu.

The teams had a few weeks to plan and prepare a dish using five main ingredients, two of which had to be United States Department of Agriculture commodity foods. (Various beans, grains, fruits and vegetables are USDA commodity foods, which make up part of school cafeteria menus.) The recipes could not be desserts or include meat, fish or nuts.

The middle school team’s challenge this year was to create a breakfast dish while the high school teams were required to include a mystery ingredient in their dishes that was revealed on the day of the competition. DJ Anthony from WEHM emceed the event.

Twelve judges, including 12-year-old Kayla Mitchell of Center Moriches who was a former contestant on MasterChef Junior Season 3, walked from one station to the next, speaking with the teams before deciding their fate in the competition.

While the event gives kids the opportunity to enhance their cooking skills, it also helps educate the students and those around them about healthy eating.

“We want to help them make connections to healthy eating and how to help with their schools better so there’s a  little community service in there,” said Cornell Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Director Victoria Fleming.

Fleming discovered the idea six years ago. The competition started in Vermont and has been an annual event for around 10 years. According to Gary Graybosch, who runs the kitchen at Whole Foods, the competition extends beyond Long Island as a variety of schools and organizations are invited. Whole Foods got on board to hold the competition at its Lake Grove location after Graybosch and several of his employees toured the Suffolk County farm in Yaphank.

The judges didn’t simply critique the dishes based on taste, creativity and presentation. They also examined the groups’ use of local foods and USDA food, the dish’s health value and readiness for a school cafeteria.

The Spice Girls middle school team prepared their dish, Sunrise Breakfast Napoleon for the fourth annual Junior Iron Chef Competition. Photo by Giselle Barkley
The Spice Girls middle school team prepared their dish, Sunrise Breakfast Napoleon for the fourth annual Junior Iron Chef Competition. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Seneca Middle School’s team Super Fresh from Holbrook won the title for the middle schools with its Super Fresh Healthy Egg and Potato. Students John Durkin, Andrew Battelli and Hunter Ziems and team coach Mary Faller made up the team.

The Chef Masters from Oakdale Bohemia Middle School in Oakdale took second place. Students Charles Ryder, Vanessa Villatoro and Abby Frances, guided by coach Judy Jones, won the judges over as runners up with their South West Breakfast Quesadilla.

Seneca Middle School also grabbed third place with the  Kings of the Kitchen’s Kings Breakfast Burrito. Coached by Mary Faller, Dom Strebel, Nick Strebel, Tobi Green, Steven Salica and Nick Zariello received praise for their sauteed potatoes, which were mixed with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, eggs and cheese.

“We had a few other ideas [but] we looked more into it and saw … that [the breakfast burrito] was the best one to do,” Nick Zariello said about his team’s dish of choice. “It was just a lot of fun.” Nick added that the team practiced daily during lunch periods and after school to prepare for the competition.

The Tiger Lilies of Little Flower in Wading River took first place of the high school teams. Coached by Jennifer Quinlan, teammates Alex Moa, Russel Denner, Charleen Thompson and Briana Ivory stole the competition with their Thai Coconut Curry Noodle Bowl. The dish featured whole wheat spaghetti, various vegetables and a coconut curry sauce with a kick.

High school team La Banda from Greenport Schools was thrown a curve ball during the competition with the secret ingredient, but still secured second place. Richard Torres Galicia, Walfred Gatica, Antonio Coria, Antonio Anderson and Leo Torres made Wrapped Italian Black Bean Burgers with Garlic Parmesan Sauce. The group, coached by Marianne Ladalia, worked their secret ingredient, mango, into their dish as a side.

“It was an intense atmosphere at first. We didn’t know what to do at the beginning but after time we got used to it,” Torres Galicia said. “We communicated as one team and then we came out with a good dish.”

A member of The Four Toasters from Sagamore Middle School cooks canned peaches at the fourth annual Junior Iron Chef Competition. Photo by Giselle Barkley
A member of The Four Toasters from Sagamore Middle School cooks canned peaches at the fourth annual Junior Iron Chef Competition. Photo by Giselle Barkley

While some young cooks look up to prominent chefs, the middle school team The Savory Blazers — Sophia Chinea, Lexington Carerra and Adrianna Cantu, coached by Michell Chinea  — who are members of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Trailblazers 4-H program, draw their inspiration from role models who are closer to home. Group member Sophia said she admires her aunt’s cooking and baking and added that she “always wanted to be like her when [she grew] up.”

Fellow teammate Adrianna said it can be difficult to decide on a role model. “There’s so  many people that are good at making food . . . You might find a new person every single day.”

Although Fleming organizes the competition with Whole Foods every year, these young chefs never fail to surprise her. “I’m so amazed to be working with all these amazing kids that … have learned these skills and are able to demonstrate them in front of a large group like this,” Fleming said. “So it’s very inspiring to me to do this every year.

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