As Nevada Union High School students readied themselves for spring break, nearly 150 Culinary Arts students competed in the 3rd Annual Jr Iron Chef Competition sponsored by Sierra Harvest and BriarPatch Food Co-op.
The week long competition began with a reveal of the secret ingredient: organic, local carrots from Mountain Bounty Farm. In less than an hour, student teams crafted a recipe highlighting the secret ingredient. Culinary Instructor Kelli Morris shopped for all team’s ingredients at Briar Patch with a generous gift card donated by the Food Coop. Students then had a class period to prep ingredients. When the guest judges arrived on Wednesday and Thursday, students had an hour long class period to execute and present their dishes.
Recipes were scored based on flavor, presentation, creativity, and practicality. Guest judges chose a winning dish from each of the 5 culinary classes and to compete against one another for the toughest critics: their peers. Students judged the top five dishes in the Nevada Union cafeteria during lunch last week. In a close race, Roasted Carrot and Sweet Potato soup won with 35% of the vote. Cheesy Carrot Casserole came in 2nd with 23% of the vote, followed by Carrot Ginger Soup and Moroccan Carrot Tagine.
The following is a first-hand account of the competition from guest judge Roberta DesBouillons, retired chef and former owner of Apron Strings, a cooking school for youth in San Francisco.
Once things got rolling I was aware of how industrious and ambitious these high school students were. No one took the path of least resistance. I witnessed team work, critical thinking, time management, math, science…all the things that take place in a commercial industrial kitchen.
Fellow judges Megan Hart from Polly’s Paladar, Shana Maziarz from Three Forks, Wendy Van Wagner involved in Nevada County Nutritional Program, Shanin Ybarrondo from Nevada County Grown, Aimee Retzler, Malaika Bishop, and Lauren Scott from Sierra Harvest were roaming throughout the kitchen as the students pulled together ingredients, preheated ovens and collected tools as the clock started to tick. As dishes began to come together, the aromas started taking center stage. Cinnamon, cumin and curry were just a few of the global scents. Blenders were whirling while pureeing variations of carrot soup, food processors were busy grating for potato, carrot latkes, stand mixers were whipping up cream cheese frosting for carrot cake, muffins and blondies.
One by one the teams started bringing their completed projects up to the judging area. The sense of pride and accomplishment was evident as the dishes were placed on the table to be judged. Each judge armed with fork and spoon took their job seriously. Initially the first taste was taken with discrimination as the students stood to the side looking for an indication as to how their offering did. Most dishes were nothing short of impressive, meeting the criteria set before-hand. Often the plating and garnishing was creative with great eye appeal. As the judges compared notes the dishes were rated and scores added up. In the end, they were all winners. As these high school students get closer to the day they leave the place they now call home and move into the world to create their own lives, they will have to feed themselves. Jr Iron Chef brings them a step closer to being able to take something as simple as a carrot and create a beautiful, healthy dish. It teaches them to eat fresh, locally sourced food and that spending time in the kitchen can be a rewarding experience.
If you’d like to taste the semi-finalist recipes for yourself – here they are!
1st Place: Roasted Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup
- 2 large sweet potatoes
- 1 lb carrots
- 1 yellow onion
- 2-4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 cloves minced garlic
- 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Peel and chop veggies, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Roast on a lined baking sheet on the center rack of oven for 30-40 minutes.
- Bring a medium pot to medium-low heat and melt butter.
- Add flour, slowly whisking to form a roux. Stir constantly, while the roux thickens, then slowly add in veggie broth.
- Add roasted veggies and season with salt.
- Blend soup using an immersion blender, or in batches using a regular blender.
- Serve hot, topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
2nd Place: Cheesy Carrot Casserole
- ½ cup butter
- ½ medium onion
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon dried mustard
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 12 large carrots cut into bite sized pieces
- 1 cup plain bread crumbs or Ritz crackers
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13 casserole dish.
- Steam carrots until ½ way cooked, soft enough to bit but still with a little crunch.
- As carrots steam, combine butter and onion in a saucepan. Cook until onions are soft and translucent.
- Add flour, salt, mustard and pepper. Mix well to create a paste.
- Slowly add 1/3 cup of milk at a time while whisking continually until all the milk has been added to pan.
- Cook for 5 minutes, turn off heat, and add cheese. Mix well until cheese is melted.
- Place steamed carrots in casserole dish, pour cheese mix on top of carrots.
- Sprinkle bread crumbs or Ritz crackers on top and bake 25 minutes.
- Garnish with chives and almonds.
3rd Place: Creamy Carrot Ginger Soup
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1 pound carrots
- 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
- ¼ cup Sour cream
- Melt butter in pot, add onions and cook, stirring often, about 5-6 minutes.
- Add broth, carrots, and ginger. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are soft. About 30 minutes.
- Add sour cream, using an immersion blender (or in batches in a regular blender). Carefully blend until smooth. Bring soup back to a boil. Adjust with salt and pepper.
4th Place: Moroccan Carrot Tagine
- 1 onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- ¾ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 Tablespoon chopped parsley
- 5 large carrots
- 1 cup water
- 3 teaspoons honey
- 2 cups chickpeas
- Sauté garlic, onion, and parsley on medium heat for 5 minutes.
- Add salt, cinnamon, pepper. Add carrots with water.
- Bring to simmer on low heat till tender.
- Stir in honey and cooked chickpeas.
Honorable Mention: Carrot Tart with Ricotta and Herbs
- 2 cup ricotta
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion
- 4 large carrots
- Package of puff pastry
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup chopped chives
- 2 tablespoon dill
- Dried cranberries
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Whisk ricotta and cream in a small bowl, season with salt and pepper.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, cook onion until soft. Add carrots and cook 2 minutes, season with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Put ricotta mixture in mini filo shells.
- Scatter onion and carrot on shells and bake until tender.
- Just before serving, toss herbs and remaining oil in a bowl with salt and pepper and place on tarts. Sprinkle on dried cranberries.