Junior chefs cook-up culinary creations

Chef Tyler Harrell, Stuttgart High School, works on his team’s entre for the Master Chef Junior Competition, March 26. Photo by Chef Edie Palladino, Patch Elementary School

By John Reese
USAG Stuttgart Public Affairs

Promising young student-chefs spent a month perfecting their culinary skills before they competed in the Master Chef Junior Competition on Panzer Kaserne, March 26.

The 17 Patch Elementary School Culinary Club and seven Stuttgart High School students spent four days a week throughout March – on their own time after classes – at a culinary boot camp to learn how to prepare regional cuisines and safely use kitchen equipment. The creative cooks were led by teacher-chefs Edie Palladino, PES, and Charlene Huebner, SHS. The students competed in a culinary quiz cooked-up by teacher Dawn MacFarland before putting skillets to stoves.

The quiz was designed to pick the regions the teams would be required to cook in, Palladino explained.

Kung Pao Chicken, prepared by Team Asia for the Master Chef Junior Competition, March 26. Photo by Chef Charlene Huebner, Stuttgart High School

“The teams were Italy, Mexico, United States, Asia, and Northern Europe,” Palladino said.  “The students’ next task was to design a three-source menu that best represented their regions.”

The SHS room used for the pop-up restaurant was a full house of classmates and family members, while the kitchen bustled with students and adult helpers. Palladino moved to wherever she was needed to ensure the overall event went smoothly, while Huebner supervised the kitchen and MacFarland ran the front end.

Teams had to come up with a regional appetizer, entrée and dessert. And like the chef competitions on television, a panel of judges from the Department of Defense Education Activity and the garrison community tasted a variety of dishes.

“Six judges tasted a total of 15 dishes over the course of two hours,” Palladino said. “The kids and food were both amazing!”

One of the judges was community superintendent Doug McEnery, Stuttgart Field Office, DoDEA East District.

“The students knew the criteria of the challenge and were amazingly successful in meeting and exceeding these standards,” McEnery said. “They not only had to cook, but also articulate their vision to adult judges.”

The junior chefs had to describe what the judges were about to eat, and a younger PES student drew a laugh when he summarized his team’s appetizer as “a bunch of meat and vegetables.”

“All of the dishes were prepared with thought, planning and teamwork, as was evident in the creative presentation and delicious taste of each dish,” said Beverly Erdmann, principal, PES, another of the judges. “It was also wonderful to witness how well the SHS students worked with the PES students.”

The partnership between Palladino and Huebner resulted in a fun, unique culinary learning opportunity for all involved, Erdmann added.

Chefs Ruthie Thompson and Sara Maclin cook up a creation for the judges. Photo by Chef Edie Palladino, Patch Elementary Schoo.

Judge Joe Holder, School Liaison Officer, PES, was another of the judges.

“My favorite dish was the Mexican entre, a red pepper stuffed with turkey,” Holder said. “The red pepper made it taste sweeter.”

Holder switched continents when it came to dessert.

“The expresso chocolate cake from Italy was great,” he said.

The judges rated all of the dishes in their different categories. After the food was consumed and the plates were cleared, the points were tallied. First place went to Team Mexico, followed by Team Italy in second and teams USA, Asia and Northern Europe tied for third.

“The excitement that was evident throughout the event, and the joy and pride expressed when the students and their families received the feedback and accolades at the end of Master Chef Junior, is testament to the well-earned sense of accomplishment for their hard work,” McEnery said.