The smells of healthy food made from scratch and the tension of competition filled the air at Orin C. Smith Elementary School in Chehalis on Monday afternoon.
There, around 60 students in grades three through five submitted a recipe to be considered in the school’s “Future Chef Competition,” which is held by Sodexo, the food management company contracted by the Chehalis School District.
Janet Charlton, the district’s Sodexo manager, said of those 60, eight finalists are chosen to cook their recipes. From there, three judges are selected from the community to try the dishes and rate them on a scale of one to five based on originality, healthy attributes, ease of preparation, kid-friendliness, taste and presentation.
This year’s judges were Chehalis Mayor Tony Ketchum, Chehalis School District Superintendent Christine Maloney and Chehalis Foundation Executive Director Jenny Collins.
The young chefs were tasked with following the theme of meals from their favorite book or movie. As such, the culinary competitors created a turkey meatball spaghetti styled after “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and an omelet based on Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” among other entries.
Though the competition did not take place last year due to the pandemic, Charlton said they’ve otherwise done it for at least 10 years.
“The main goal is just to teach the kids how to cook healthy, because everything’s always a healthy recipe,” Charlton said, adding later: “It teaches them about friendly competition and presentation and how to cook a healthy meal versus McDonald's or fast food or thrown-in-the-oven frozen stuff. Most everything here is made from scratch.”
The kids began cooking their recipes at 1:30 p.m. and were required to present their creations to the judges by 3:30 p.m.
Asked if she was stressed about the time crunch, Ashtyn, a fourth grader, said “a little bit,” but that she was mostly excited about her dish because “the first time my dad made it, I loved it. Then he taught me how to make it and it is really delicious.”
The judges now submit their winners to Sodexo, which will select from all future chef competitors nationwide to advance in competition.