BENNINGTON — Eight students from Mount Anthony Union Middle School's cooking program traveled to Essex Junction last month to take part in the 11th annual Junior Iron Chef Vermont competition.
The culinary program is part of the middle school's Mosaic After School program, and is taught by science teacher Rebecca Sweeney and sustainability teacher Elizabeth Strassman. The program has been attending Jr. Iron Chef competitions for the last four years, since Sweeney entered the district. This was the second competition for Strassman.
About 16 students participated in this year's program, but only the eight, divided into two teams of four, traveled to Essex Junction. The first team made tamale pockets, a black bean and sweet potato filling between two corn tortillas, while the second made black bean pierogi. Recipes were required to be vegetarian, kid-friendly, and able to be mass-produced. The ingredients for the recipes are largely locally sourced, said Strassman, either from the middle school's garden or from Mighty Food Farm in Shaftsbury.
Strassman said that the recipes were very well-received by the judges, and said that if anything needs to be worked on before they return next year, in would be presentation.
The students' trip was sponsored by Adam Volpi, owner of the Taphouse at Catamount Glass. On Tuesday, Volpi hosted the students for an afternoon, giving them the opportunity to make their recipes for parents and community members. Volpi, after trying out some of the recipes, said that he was incredibly proud of what the students had accomplished.
One of the students, eighth grader Connor Bell, said that the teams have to bring all their own ingredients and equipment, and were given 90 minutes to completely prepare their food. "It's very crowded," he said, adding that he would definitely recommend the program to any rising middle school students who are interested in the culinary arts.
Throughout the school year, students in the program have worked on improving their recipes for the competition. The tamale pockets, for example, originally were made from one corn tortilla folded in half, but when the tortillas kept breaking, they changed to a more slider-like design, with two tortillas.
The competition was held at Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction on Saturday, March 17.
"Jr. Iron Chef VT is a statewide culinary competition organized by Vermont FEED," according to the competition's website. "It challenges teams of middle and high school students to create healthy, local dishes that inspire school meal programs, so students understand how they can effect change in the food system."
"Although the Jr. Iron Chef VT competition is held once a year," it continues, "its influence and impact extends well beyond the event. Teams from more than 55 schools begin to gather in September. They develop recipes, learn basic cooking techniques, and explore new foods, like local rutabaga. Once a recipe is chosen, students practice an average of six times, with increasing accuracy and confidence at every meeting."
Derek Carson can be reached at email@example.com, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.