Authors Posts by Giselle Barkley

Giselle Barkley

Giselle Barkley is a reporter and a Stony Brook University graduate. She loves photography, videography and spending time her family and friends.

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Above, the dock at 110 Van Brunt Manor Road in Poquott. Photo by Giselle Barkley

After 15 years, the Village of Poquott is taking another look at its dock law.

On March 14, the village’s planning board proposed making three changes to the dock law. The changes will set new guidelines for establishing docks in Poquott.

According to Planning Board Chairman, Roger Flood, the board wants to ensure there is at least 18 feet from the shore end of the dock and any obstruction along the shoreline.

The second change concerns the distance from a dock to a village beach or park. Currently, a dock needs to be 100 feet away from a village beach or park. Flood says the dock applications they’ve recently received are not close to these public areas, but the board wants to double the distance between the dock and these locations.

“No one had thought to build another dock [one-and-a-half-years ago],” Flood said. “It seemed like an opportunity just to review what happened under our dock law and see if it needed some tweaking going forward.”

In light of this, last year the village issued a moratorium on building docks. Trustee Jeff Koppelson said the moratorium was extended, which gave the board more time to propose changes to the 2000 law. While there were no dock applications at the time, the ban came nearly one year after a dock on 110 Van Brunt Manor Road was established.

Flood said plans for a second dock were underway in the past, but it wasn’t constructed because the lot wasn’t big enough to accommodate the structure. A property that is 100 feet wide would be big enough to construct a dock. According to the dock law, a dock and anything tied to the dock, can’t be within 30 feet of a property line.

Thus far people must build docks on a residentially zoned lot that has riparian rights. The rights are a means to allocate water among property owners who live or own land along the water. Flood, who helped create the initial law. While the board discussed means of preventing an overabundance of docks along the shoreline, the current law simply details a dock’s suitable distance to various property lines.

Flood and his team are also looking at how and if future docks will affect nearby mooring boats. While the board doesn’t want to displace nearby mooring boats, there was discussion of whether the docks will be long enough to deter offshore mooring in the area.

“Our intent is to have a similar sort of discussion at our next meeting to try and answer these kinds of questions,” Flood said about the law and mooring boat questions.

Mayor Dee Parrish couldn’t comment on the changes to the law. Parrish said she didn’t attend the board’s meeting and couldn’t comment until the changes are submitted to the board of trustees for their meeting in April.

The village will hold its next planning board meeting on Apr. 11, at 7:30 p.m., at Village Hall in Poquott.

The hills of Benner’s Farm in Setauket were alive with children this past weekend.

Around 3,200 guests filed onto the farm for its seventh annual Easter Egg Hunt, with some families coming from as far as Queens and the Bronx. According to Bob Benner, the event grows more popular every year, with more than 11,000 eggs used for this year’s hunt.

Participants purchased spring flowers, took photos with the Easter Bunny, visited the farm’s new baby piglets or held baby chicks and bunnies while they waited for one of the farm’s three egg hunts to start.

Benner’s Farm, located at 56 Gnarled Hollow Road, Setauket, officially opens to the public for the spring on April 16 and 17 from noon to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-689-8172 or visit

Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro. Photo by Phil Corso

A few Brookhaven officials are bringing in more bacon after the town board approved salary increases for them on Tuesday.

Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R), Town Clerk Donna Lent (R) and Town Tax Receiver Louis Marcoccia (R) will see an uptick in their salaries following the board’s unanimous vote — Losquadro from $98,534 to $112,000; Lent from $92,386 to $100,000; and Marcoccia from $90,922 to $100,000.

But some community members weren’t on the same page as the board.

“There’s no doubt they deserve a raise, however, we all do and we’re not getting one,” Brookhaven resident James Wilkie said during a public hearing on the matter. “Taxpayers of this town, as you know as well as anybody else, are hurting.”

Supervisor Ed Romaine said the positions in question haven’t seen salary increases in the past eight to 10 years.

“Several years go by and it becomes evident that other municipalities are paying higher than Brookhaven for different positions,” the supervisor said.

Town Attorney Annette Eaderesto said the town looked at the salaries for those positions in neighboring towns and took the average.

“You want to stay competitive, you want to be able to attract good people to this job in the future,” Romaine said before the vote. “One way to do it is to make sure the compensation is accurate.”

Clifford Hymowitz, president of a part-timers union in the town, expressed gratitude that the town is financially stable enough to increase certain employee salaries, but demanded similar recognition for people working part-time.

According to Hymowitz, 38 of his 171 part-timers have made less than $12 an hour over the past four or five years. He added that some have worked for a decade or more and are still making $9.75 an hour.

Eaderesto noted that residents who wish to put the salary increases up for a public vote have 45 days to submit petitions to request a referendum.

Rocky Point school district will be spending half of its budget on the teachers, classes and programs, while spending the least amount on debt service and fund transfers.

By Giselle Barkley

Rocky Point school district will be spending half of its budget on the teachers, classes and programs, while spending the least amount on debt service and fund transfers.
Rocky Point school district will be spending half of its budget on the teachers, classes and programs, while spending the least amount on debt service and fund transfers.

Taxpayers in Rocky Point school district may see rebate checks from the government, thanks to Rocky Point school district’s 2016-17 budget proposal.

Rocky Point Superintendent of Schools Michael Ring held the final budget presentation on March 21, announcing that the district’s $80.6 million budget will help maintain the existing instructional, athletic and co-curricular programs, while also working to tackle improvements in the buildings and campuses, like fence and parking lot repairs, and increasing the number of cafeteria tables and cameras across the campus.

Although Ring said the district is confident it will receive money from the Gap Elimination Adjustment restoration, Rocky Point will currently receive $25.2 million in regular state aid, with the possibility of an increase, depending on the results of a vote to restore funds from the GEA. According to Ring, the district receives most of its revenue from tax levies. Residents will see an approximate 0.75 percent increase year over year in the tax levy in the district. Despite the increase, the district’s budget falls within the 0.12 percent tax cap. In light of the limited tax cap, the district only increased its budget by 2.34 percent.

“We believe that the budgets we have presented in previous years and [the one] we’re presenting this year are efficient and effective,” Ring said. “Efficient in that the level of expenditures is very conservative and within the tax cap, and effective because they continue to hold our programs together, both instructionally and co-curricular.”

Rocky Point’s instructional programs, which include courses for general and special education, make up around 50 percent of the district’s budget, followed by employee benefits, among other categories.

“I think this is a place to give every student an opportunity to succeed,” said Scott Reh, vice president of Rocky Point’s board of education.

The superintendent echoed Reh’s stance during the meeting regarding Rocky Point students.

“Success for our students is at the intersection of many roads, and these roads are the main components of our budget,” Ring said. “These many roads are represented by the breadth and depth of academic programs, instructional supports, and co-curricular opportunities we offer in order to allow each of our students to excel.”

Residents who are at least 18 years old and have lived in the school district for at least 30 days are eligible to vote. Community members can vote on the budget on Tuesday May 17, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the high school gymnasium. Community members can register to vote by calling the District Clerk, Patricia Jones, at 631-849-7243.

If the budget doesn’t pass, the district would have to cut around $360,000 from the proposal. Ring added that the board would also have to eliminate new additions to the budget and restrict the public’s use of various school facilities, to reduce the district’s expenditures. A contingency budget would still help the district fund new projects and maintain old programs.

“The Board of Education remained steadfast in its commitment to develop a financial plan that not only supported our district’s current educational and co-curricular offerings, but also provided for instructional enhancements geared toward further preparing today’s students to become tomorrow’s leaders,” President of Rocky Point Board of Education Susan Sullivan said. “The Board believes that the proposed budget not only meets this mission, but also supports our commitment to taxpayers by staying within the confines of the New York State tax cap.”

This version corrects information about the Rocky Point school district’s contingency budget.

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Juli Grey-Owens chants with residents at the Setauket Presbyterian Church. Photo by Giselle Barkley

The crowd’s chants were loud and in unison: “Trans lives matter. Pass GENDA now.”

Juli Grey-Owens, executive director of The Long Island Transgender Advocacy Coalition, joined with members of the Long Island DREAM Coalition, the Bus Riders’ Union, SEPA Mujer and the Move to Amend Coalition and other organizations on Thursday, March 17, at the Setauket Presbyterian Church to demand better transparency and representation from state Sen. John Flanagan (R- East Northport).

While the coalitions had different agendas, they all sought to deliver a message to Flanagan with hopes of sparking a serious conversation on transgender rights, public transportation issues, undocumented students and families, isolated confinement and other concerns they argued were being ignored on the state level of government.

“Right now, Long Islanders — everyday, hardworking Long Islanders — are not being seen as a priority in the state, nor by our own state representative,” said Aaron Watkins-Lopez, organizer for the Long Island Bus Riders’ Union.

Last year, Suffolk County made steps to cut various bus schedules because of a lack of state funding. Watkins-Lopez said that Sen. Philip Boyle (R-East Islip) supported getting additional transit funds, and took steps to establish a piece of legislation when former state Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) was working in the Senate.

Currently, transgender individuals don’t have any laws prohibiting transgender discrimination in the workplace, housing and more.

After Skelos left office because of his own legal troubles, people like Grey-Owens hoped the Senate would finally pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which was introduced in 2003 as a means of outlawing discrimination in New York State based on gender identity or expression.

The state Assembly passed the bill eight years in a row, but was never brought to a vote in the Senate. Grey-Owens said she hoped Flanagan would bring the bill for a vote when he became Senate majority leader.

According to Grey-Owens, Flanagan said he would support the bill in 2014 if it came to the floor for a vote.

“He refuses to bring the bill to the floor and transgender New Yorkers are forced to wait another year to possibly receive the same rights that all New Yorkers enjoy,” Grey-Owens said during the meeting.

Although Flanagan was unable to make the meeting, his spokesman Scott Reif said the Senate majority leader “prides himself on being open and transparent.” He added that Flanagan’s absence wasn’t personal.

“The senator routinely meets with all groups, as he has done for 30 years throughout his entire public career, regardless of whether he agrees with them or not,” Reif said in an email. “The decision to take a meeting is never influenced by a group’s position on an issue, it is dictated solely by what his schedule will allow.”

Watkins-Lopez expressed disappointment with Flanagan’s absence and said it was imperative for state officials to meet with their constituents and acknowledge their concerns.

“We pay taxes, we pay their salaries. We’re their bosses and they need to remember that,” Watkins-Lopez said after the meeting. “They’re public servants. Serve the public not yourself.”

Flanagan’s absence at the meeting was also disappointing for Dulce Rojas, community organizer for SEPA Mujer. The nonprofit organization aims to help Latina immigrants and representatives demanded that Flanagan address their concerns.

Rojas said that human trafficking is prevalent in the area. Rojas said she “wanted to ask him to start thinking about all the residents on Long Island.”

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Mount Sinai superintendent Gordon Brosdal said the best part about going to work is the potential of great things happening in education for the school district. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Mount Sinai Superintendent of School’s Gordon Brosdal has worn many hats in his 46 years in education. But there’s one hat he wants to wear for a little bit longer.

On March 16, the school district’s Board of Education unanimously voted to extend the superintendent’s contract for an additional five years. Brosdal, whose initial contract ended next year, will maintain his position as until 2022, and add to his already expansive career.

“It creates stability in the district when everyone knows that you’re going to be here,” Brosdal said.

The average lifespan of a superintendent is five years, according to Brosdal. While superintendents typically start with a three-year contract, the board of education can vote to hire someone new to fill the position. Board members can also change, which can affect whether a superintendent remains with the district or start looking for another job.

Although Mount Sinai’s Board extended Brosdal’s contract, the superintendent’s salary agreement, which is linked to the tax cap, and benefits, will remain the same. His benefits include personal days, vacation time and health care, among some other benefits.

The district hired Brosdal in July 2014, with a starting salary of $195,000, staying under the $200,000 limit.

In his two years with the district, he lobbied for full day kindergarten and the district’s new writing program. Since the implementation of full-day K and the writing program, kindergarten students have learned how to read and write faster than those in previous classes.

“He has been a leader among leaders,” said Board of Education President Robert Sweeney. “I think he’s added so much to our district.”

Although Sweeney was unavailable for further comment, he has worked frequent with the superintendent and encouraged his fellow board members to vote in favor of the contract extension. Trustee and Vice President of the Board, Peter Van Middelem, added that Brosdal is widely respected across many districts on the Island.

Brosdal said he hopes to add more electives for students to take at Mount Sinai High School, including a virtual enterprise course. The course will allow students to study entrepreneurship and learn about accounting, human resources and other skills that will help them in college and their future career endeavors. The superintendent said he has many ideas for updating the district’s curriculum, which are currently on the back burner until the district can afford to implement the ideas.

Prior to working in the Mount Sinai school district, Brosdal worked at the Middle Country and William Floyd school districts. He’s served as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent in the past four-and-a-half decades. He will be one of few individuals on the Island who serve more than five decades in education.

“I feel this is the best opportunity I’ve had in my career,” Brosdal said. “I love coming to work. I work with great people. It’s a great district … and it’s like being renewed. I would like to work the rest of my career here, and we’ll see what happens at the end of five years.”

Residents living with dementia and their care partners watch a clip from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ at a past Making Memories at the Movies event. Photo from Raj Tawney

Huntington’s Cinema Arts Centre is taking residents with dementia down memory lane with its innovative and unique program series titled Making Memories at the Movies.

The community-based event, which social worker Marcy Rhodes established last year and which returns on Monday, March 21, targets people living with dementia as well as their care partners. While the event helps these residents socialize with others, it has also helped many of them remember parts of their past.

“The idea is to invite people with dementia and their care partners into a creative environment where they have an opportunity to relate to the arts, and to engage in conversation and be inspired by the art,” said Rhodes.

Rhodes screens clips of six to eight iconic old movies or television shows that attendees may have seen during their youth. With winter winding down and spring on the way, the theme of next Monday’s program is Springtime. The event will feature clips of films like “Singin’ in the Rain.” Rhodes also mentioned “Easter Parade” as a film option before she finalized clips for the upcoming show.

She hesitated to disclose the names of all the clips as participants try to identify the film or TV show. Many of these clips include musical numbers as music helps people connect with one another, Rhodes said.

“People really get into it. They laugh, they talk, they share memories,” said the CAC’s director of publicity, Raj Tawney. “It’s just a really wonderful experience to watch.”

The Cinema Arts Centre is just one of a few places in the Town of Huntington that offers this program. While the Whaling Museum and Education Center of Cold Spring Harbor started offering a similar program in December of last year, the Heckscher Museum of Art established its program three years ago. Rhodes said word of the program spread among close-knit organizations like the CAC and museums.

Although Rhodes started the CAC’s Making Memories program, the concept of the program originated in Boston and has become an international effort that has extended from The Museum of Modern Art in New York City to the Louvre in Paris and Art Institute in Australia.

Marcy Rhodes speaks to event attendees at a past Making Memories at the Movies event at the Cinema Arts Centre. Photo from Raj Tawney
Marcy Rhodes speaks to event attendees at a past Making Memories at the Movies event at the Cinema Arts Centre. Photo from Raj Tawney

“It’s a social opportunity for people [with dementia] and their care partners to engage in an activity that is typical,” Rhodes said.

According to Tawney, many of these residents living with dementia rarely leave their homes, which further affects their mental health.

“Their minds can deteriorate if they go unsocialized,” Tawney said. “So when they come here, they get to see movies, they get to have a conversation with each other. It’s a very interactive program.”

Community members with dementia and their care partners can register for Making Memories at the Movies on March 21 at 11 a.m. at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington, by calling 631-423-7611. Admission is $5 per person. Popcorn and beverages will be served.

Residents who can’t make Monday’s program will have another chance to challenge their memories on May 23 and July 25 at 11 a.m.

Shoreham-Wading River High School will undergo several projects to improve the facility by 2017. File photo

Shoreham-Wading River residents may see an increase in their taxes next year if the school district’s 2016-17 budget is approved.

Last week, the Shoreham-Wading River school district proposed the first part of its $71.9 million budget. Taxes will increase by 4.96 percent for those living in the district, according to Superintendent of Schools Steven Cohen.

The budget will target old and new projects that the district must complete before the end of June 2017. The district hopes to establish, renovate or replace aspects of the campus, like renovating the varsity softball field, building a scoreboard at the high school turf field and add two bathrooms in the high school. A sprinkler system for the high school soccer and field hockey fields are also among the newer projects.

The SWR district will continue with older projects from this academic year, which include plans for a disaster-recovery system for district data and replacing two overhead garage doors in the school’s maintenance garage.

Cohen added that the district will receive additional financial support to fund an AP Capstone program for the high-schoolers, decrease English class sizes to help administrators teach more effectively, organize field trips and establish an English as a New Language course.

“These are curriculum and instructional additions that we have included in this budget, and they are meant to keep the momentum going that we have developed over the last several years,” Cohen said during the budget presentation.

Last May, the board of education established plans for a new turf field, which was completed earlier this year. The project was part of the board’s initiative to improve the campus facilities. Cohen wants to continue improving the field by adding bleachers, which will offer ample seating for large events like graduations.

The SWR district budgeted to receive $10.5 million in state aid to fund these projects. Despite the statewide 0.12 percent tax cap, the district doesn’t plan on piercing it, unlike some other districts in New York state. According to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli (D), 6 percent — or 36 out of 601 — school districts that have reported their proposed budgets pierced the cap as of March 2. Only 3.5 percent of districts voted to pierce the cap last year. In a press release the comptroller added, “School districts are feeling the impact of a historically low tax levy limit.”

But for Shoreham-Wading River, the cap didn’t disrupt the superintendent’s plans to better the campus.

“The heart and soul of what we are proposing this year is to really explain and start to provide the resources to pay for all the construction that’s going on,” Cohen said. “This is an idea that we talked about at great length last year in preparation for the community vote on the bond project, and now [these are the details for] providing the resources for all that work.”

East Beach in Port Jefferson is on the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Giselle Barkley

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got more than it bargained for at a North Shore library earlier this month when concerned residents showed up to oppose a plan that would allow dumping of dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound for the next 30 years.

EPA officials had finalized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed open water dredging plan in January, and had set the public hearing at the Port Jefferson Free Library to get input on possible rules and regulations for the 30-year plan, which calls for the Army Corps of Engineers to dump upward of 50 cubic yards of dredge material from Connecticut waterways into the Long Island Sound.

The group has practices this type of dumping for years, but has recently faced opposition from environmental advocates.

About 60 community members attended the EPA’s hearing on the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan.

“We’re not offering … specifics in the rulemaking because we’re not going to approve a plan that pollutes the Long Island Sound,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We’ve been having public hearings for 10 years and all of the public input has been unanimously ignored.”

The EPA has said it is open to finding alternative ways to dispose of the spoils, and invited communities to partner with that agency and with the Army Corps to line up resources to explore those other methods and do the investigation.

New York State demanded that the Army Corps reevaluate its disposal process in 2005, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make a public statement regarding the new dredging proposal.

“The Long Island Sound should be protected from adverse activities, rather than have this activity go forward,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said.

Englebright, the head of the state Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, said spoils could instead be used to replenish eroded beaches: “We’re going to need to defend our coastlines and we’re going to need a lot of sediment to do that.”

Esposito had similar ideas at a press conference in February. She suggested the spoils could be used for wetlands and beach restoration and for capping landfills.

County officials like Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were disappointed in the EPA’s support of the plan. “We’ve invested so much [money] in improving the health of the Sound,” she said. “To have them make a decision that flies in the face of all that investment … is very discouraging.”

In a previous interview, Stephen Perkins, a member of the EPA’s dredging team, said the agency tests the material before dumping it into the Sound. Highly toxic spoils are not dumped.

But Hoffman said spoils jeopardize the water’s health.

“It’s an estuary of significance, it’s an estuary that’s endangered,” Hahn said.

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.