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Grand Street Cooking Competition

“Are you guys ready?” asked Chef Whitney as she reached for the mysterious bag of key seasonal ingredients. The featured contents – rhubarb, fennel, and chive blossoms. To celebrate the last class of our spring session, the teens from Grand Street Settlement Center on the Lower East Side were put to the test with a cooking competition. The judging panel was comprised of Whitney, our City Education Director and Chef Instructor, and two former teens of our partner program – Jenn and Jamie. The class was divided into three teams: team 1 – Mykayla and Tasnim; team 2 – Samantha and Bronze; and team 3 – Mason, Kristal, and Kenneth. And the task – create 2-3 dishes using basic pantry items, spring produce, and the featured ingredients.

After just five weeks of hard work, our chefs took over the kitchen like pros – whisking, sautéing, and deglazing like it was second nature. One group came together briefly to brainstorm kitchen substitutions. No orange juice? No worries. They used apple cider vinegar instead. Another group fretted over sauce and figuring out the precise measurements that would prevent their creations from burning. And amongst all of the clamoring and moving bodies, Chef Whitney still managed to insert teachable moments. “What can you do to speed up the cooking process of pasta?”, asked Chef Whitney. One teen yells out oil. Another says salt. The real answer – put a lid on it.

With 30 minutes left on the clock, the class was brimming with energy as the judges waited in anticipation to see who can stand the heat of the kitchen. Kenneth, our Chef Garde Manger for the day, spent a few seconds mulling over the chive blossoms. “Should I add them to the salad or toss them in the pesto?” As the resident cold prep chef, he decided on both and gracefully chopped up rhubarb to add to the mix. Then, we spent a few minutes chatting over his love for cooking. I ask him what his favorite recipe he made this session was. “Dumplings!”, he exulted with a big grin. Other students overheard and agreed with an enthusiastic nod and a mouthful of strawberries, “Oh yes, those were so good!”

Group one finished with a light salad with rhubarb and a classic dijon vinaigrette. Group two combined the key ingredients into an unusual combination of egg noodles, that went over surprisingly well. And finally, group 3 sprinkled chive puffs onto a garlicky-pesto pasta dish and saved the rhubarb for last. The desserts ranged from deconstructed rhubarb pie to classic oatmeal cookies drizzled with honey. The judges looked a bit dubious before taking a bite of the rhubarb pie, but the combinations melded nicely. Samantha and Bronze’s (names)  strawberry rhubarb ginger cake with caramelized caramel drizzled on top, stood out from the crowd.

The judges awarded best flavor profile to Mykayla and Tasnim for their asparagus and spinach egg pasta and strawberry and rhubarb pie. Mason, Kristal, and Kenneth earned best plated meal for their salad, pesto pasta, and oatmeal cookies. And the winning meal? Samantha and Bronze for their pasta, asparagus with caramelized onions, and beautifully plated cake.

“I would have never thought to put all of these ingredients together at home”, said Mykayla.

At the end, our budding  chefs portioned their efforts, and collectively created a full meal. A little friendly competition inspired by creativity was a great end to our spring session.  The food was great; the conversation was lively; and we were all very full by the end.

Grand Street, a historic social services institution dating back to 1916, was founded with the mission to encourage and nurture New Yorkers through support, learning, advocacy, and community building. As a program partner, we work with Grand Street as part of our Teen Chef: Skills For Life Culinary Program, a six-week cooking program each spring and fall where we help young chefs grow their confidence in the kitchen while educating them about how to create healthy meals and the importance of eating nutritious foods.