Every year, culinary teams from the Francis Howell high schools come together to compete in the Sodexo Culinary Celebrations Iron Chef Competition. Sodexo, the district’s food service provider, donates all of the food for the event. The only competition more fierce than the culinary throw down is the competition to see who gets to be one of the judges!
Student teams of five must do all of the cooking and no precooked items are allowed. Students are expected to practice industry standards for safety and sanitation during the competition. Teams have just two hours to prepare a meal for 60 people.
“When we started cooking, it was a really fun time, but once that timer goes off, your time is really limited,” said Francis Howell Central High junior Nicole Jones. “It gets a little intense, so you have to work with each other and stay positive.”
Items that must be on the menu include an entrée featuring meat, seafood or a vegetarian option; a starch or side; a vegetable or salad; and a dessert. This year, the surprise ingredient was tomatillos, a key ingredient in Mexican and Central-American cuisine. All teams were required to incorporate it into at least one dish.
Food items were judged on presentation, taste and originality as related to this year’s theme, “Food Truck Bonanza!”
Francis Howell Union whipped up stuffed poblanos with pepper sauces, and Francis Howell Central High created Cap’n Crunch chicken tacos and blackberry honey walnut salad. Francis Howell High created the “Beacon of Bacon” and even had a bacon-themed dessert – brownies with maple bacon ice cream. But the winner in the judge’s eyes [and mouths] was Francis Howell North High with snap crackle cluck chicken, cauli-poppers, “give me a wedgie” potato wedges and Knight-cho mama’s apple pie.
“It’s more intense than I expected,” said Francis Howell North High senior and winning team member Alex Nelson. “I’m extremely happy with our product.”
Sodexo District Chef Karin Mann runs the competition, and said she gets just as much out of it as the students do. But as she points out, it’s more than just a game for some – it’s a pathway to a career.
“Seeing kids come together to cook and compete in something other than sports is a great thing. Many of these kids go on to have careers in Los Angeles and New York and everywhere in between.”