York County Elementary Students Show Off Cooking Skills in Future Chefs Competition

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Waller Mill third-grader Leila Davidson, left, and Mt. Vernon fourth-grader Melis Bayraktar prepare their dishes during the Sodexo Future Chefs Culinary Competition on Thursday.
Waller Mill third-grader Leila Davidson (left) and Mt. Vernon fourth-grader Melis Bayraktar prepare their dishes during the Sodexo Future Chefs Culinary Competition on Thursday. (Colin Riddle/WYDaily)

York County elementary students put their competitive cooking skills to the test, with school division celebrities serving as judges.

Students from each of the 10 elementary schools in the York County School Division took over the kitchen at York High School last week to bring their own recipes to life for the Sodexo Future Chefs Culinary Competition.

The national initiative was created six years ago to promote healthy and nutritional food choices to students and encourage innovation in the kitchen. Sodexo started providing food service for the school division three years ago.

“That’s what we’re about is working with our children,” said Michelle Knotts, food service director for Sodexo and York County Schools. “It builds a foundation for them to feel comfortable in the kitchen. It encourages them and builds self-esteem.”

Knotts said the students also take the lesson of healthy eating to the home along with a passion to cook together as a family.

Mt. Vernon fourth-grader Melis Bayraktar said she started cooking in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother and featured what is now a third-generation dish in her family called red bread, which puts a mixture of garlic, feta, butter, eggs and tomato sauce baked on top of bread.

She said cooking for her is fun and delicious; she said she decided she wanted to be a chef after watching an American Girl movie featuring Grace, who works to save her grandparents’ bakery.

Dare Elementary second-grader Timothy Edwards and Tim Miller, food service operations manager for York County Schools, prepare breakfast sushi in the York High School kitchen. (Colin Riddle/WYDaily)
Dare Elementary second-grader Timothy Edwards and Tim Miller, food service operations manager for York County Schools, prepare breakfast sushi in the York High School kitchen. (Colin Riddle/WYDaily)

For Dare Elementary second-grader Timothy Edwards, he likes the prospect of being able to cook his favorite food and make delicious meals.

Edwards made breakfast sushi, complete with oatmeal, strawberries, kiwi and bananas rolled up in cantaloupe.

He said it is important to eat healthy foods, such as breakfast sushi, to help grow strong, which he admitted he needed to do.

Each of the 10 students who participated in the Future Chefs Competition had their recipes chosen from the 240 submitted by elementary students in the division.

They were then judged on taste, originality, ease of preparation, healthy attributes, kid appeal and plate presentation.

“For them to be here today, that speaks volumes. They’re already winners,” Knotts said Thursday during the competition.

Bonus points could be earned by using healthy ingredients, including bagels, low-fat cheese, eggs, low-sodium ham, mushrooms, oatmeal, pineapple, tortillas, turkey sausage, whole grain cereals and yogurt.

A panel of judges, including Superintendent Victor Shandor, Chief Operations Officer Carl James and School Board members Barbara Haywood, Page Minter and Mark Medford, selected Yorktown Elementary fifth-grader Sanai Conley as the night’s winner.

Conley, who made a breakfast banana split featuring fresh fruit and Greek yogurt, will be considered for regional finalist awards in hopes of becoming one of five national finalists.

Conley said she watches many cooking shows and started paying attention in the kitchen at home.

“What you cook is mostly you. It’s your ideas. It’s what you make up,” Conley said.