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Swain County one of five teams in state vying for 2022 North Carolina Jr. Chef title

Five teams of high school students enrolled in food and nutrition and culinary arts courses will vie for the state title in the 2022 North Carolina Jr. Chef Competition. Based on applications and recipes submitted, teams from Apex High (Wake County Public Schools), Ashe County High, Monroe High and Parkwood High (Union County Public Schools), and Swain County High were selected as finalists in the statewide cook-off next month.

This is the fifth statewide competition and the second year that teams will participate virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the first competition in 2018, 20 recipes have been developed, 80 student Jr. Chefs have participated, 32 educators have coached (Family and Consumer Sciences teachers and School Nutrition administrators), 14 school districts participated, and $691,000 in scholarships have been offered to student competitors from North Carolina – all resulting in countless benefits and positive experiences for students and staff across the state.

For the N.C. Jr. Chef Competition, students enrolled in Career and Technical Education culinary arts and hospitality, food and nutrition, or food science and technology courses are challenged to work with their Family and Consumer Sciences teachers and School Nutrition administrators to develop a creative recipe for a school lunch entrée. The recipes must meet the National School Lunch Program nutrition standards, include at least two North Carolina-grown products and one USDA Foods item, be replicable by School Nutrition Programs, and also appeal to student tastes. This year, at least one of the two North Carolina-grown ingredients must be cabbage (red or green), dark leafy greens (collard greens, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, romaine, spinach, Swiss chard), legumes/beans and peas, sweetpotatoes, winter squash, or wheat.

For the competition, teams submit applications with recipes, nutrient and cost analysis, and recipe photos. Based on a review of applications and recipes submitted, finalist teams are selected to advance to the cook-off phase of the competition.

Teams are required to follow food safety and COVID-19 safety guidelines from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and their local health departments as well as guidance from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and their local schools or districts.

For the next phase of the competition, which has a deadline of March 2, teams will submit a video of their student chefs preparing and plating their school lunch entrée recipe. Along with the video, teams will resubmit their applications, recipes and recipe photos, and nutrient and cost analysis, incorporating feedback from the recipe review panel. In addition, they will turn in a time-management plan for how they prepare their dish within the 90-minute time limit. Teams will present their dishes March 22 or 23 during virtual, live interviews with a panel of judges. Judges can ask questions and share feedback with the teams during the interviews. Judges will evaluate teams for their ability to work together to demonstrate valuable skills in recipe development, food preparation, marketing, public presentation, organization, and local food systems.

All N.C. Jr. Chef finalist teams will be recognized, and the competition results will be announced on March 30 during the N.C. Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (N.C. FCCLA) State Leadership Conference. In addition, teams will be invited to participate in a virtual awards ceremony on March 31 with their families, Family and Consumer Sciences teachers, principals, School Nutrition directors, Career and Technical Education directors, superintendents, and public information officers. Team members will receive N.C. Jr. Chef coats, hats, and aprons along with certificates and medals based on team scores. First, second and third place teams will receive plaques to display in their school, and the first-place team will have the honor of hosting the competition trophy until the next cook-off. Sullivan University in Kentucky will offer scholarships to the student members of the top three teams. The first-place state team will advance to the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition at Sullivan University in May.

The Junior Chef Competition was created to inspire the next generation of culinary professionals, stimulate interest in locally produced agriculture, increase participation in School Nutrition Programs, provide nutrition education, and encourage healthy eating habits. The N.C. Jr. Chef Competition was planned by the School Nutrition Division and Career and Technical Education Division at the Department of Public Instruction in partnership with the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ Farm to School Program, North Carolina Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (N.C. FCCLA), and the Farm to School Coalition of North Carolina.

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