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Colorado Springs elementary school kids compete in district cooking contest

March 6, 2018 Updated: March 6, 2018 at 7:40 am
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Todd Ganatta, district chef for Sodexo foodservices in Air Academy School District 20, assisted with the Future Chef's Challenge for elementary students in the district. Winners included (from left) Carter Ganatta, Alex Gould and Carlotta Gonzalez. Gould (center) is one of five students who will compete in the Sodexo Future Chef's Challenge semi-finals with his recipe Awsome Asian Tofu. Photo by Teresa Farney

We gave you a tip last year to get youths to eat healthy: Let them create recipes to enter in a cooking contest.

And more than 150 District 20 students did. They entered the annual Sodexo Future Chef's Challenge for the chance to win an array of culinary gadgets and the opportunity to represent the district in the regional contest. The Sodexo food-service company staged the contest again in February, challenging youths to create a healthy, Asian-fusion dish, and 175 aspiring junior chefs jumped at the chance.

The entries were narrowed to 10, each of whom brought their ingredients to one of 10 cooking stations set up by dietitian Kate Fowler, director of school food and nutrition, and her staff.

The young chefs, ranging from second- to fifth-graders, had an hour to prepare and plate their creations. They proceeded to whisk and sautée their way to bragging rights. Four judges - George Stone, principal at Aspen Valley High School; Tracey Johnson, Academy School District board president; Greg Stephens, district contracting officer and yours truly - graded each dish on originality, ease of preparation, health attributes, taste, plate presentation and kid friendliness (meaning other kids would want to eat it).

All the recipes were strong. Some could have used a little more seasoning or been presented in a more attractive way. But, hey, we're talking about kids here. It's wonderful that they are interested in cooking.

The real shocker (for me) was that the one and only tofu dish took the gold. It was delicious, with a mild soy sauce and sesame seed oil flavor. What sealed it for the dish was the student's cooking technique. The tofu cubes had a nice crunchy outside and creamy texture inside. My only hesitation was whether tofu was kid-friendly or would be a turnoff to young taste buds. But for us adults, it earned high marks.

Here are the winners:

Champion: Alex's Awesome Asian Tofu, Alex Gould, fifth grade, The Classical Academy North Elementary

Runner-up: Chicken Satay, Carlotta Gonzalez, fifth grade, Chinook Trail Elementary

Third place: Pad Thai, Carter Ganatta, second grade, Explorer Elementary

Gould will advance to the regional competition. If he wins that, he'll compete in the national contest later this year.

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