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Cooking challenge has kids clamoring for a taste of fresh lettuce

Chef Mark and his fifth grade sous-chefs first did a demo preparing the Star Wars Fruit Salad and all the fifth grade students got sampling. Then, two teams faced off with a “mystery bag” of produce, to create their own healthy dish. As the teams worked, students in the audience clamored for a taste, but the judges for this contest would be the teachers. Ultimately, it was draw with one team producing a flavorful salad, and the other a tasty, fruity beverage. 

CONCORD- Hands flew up in the air when Chef Mark Allison asked Pitts School Road students if they wanted to taste his latest creation. But in what might come as a shock to many, it wasn’t a dessert or chicken the students wanted to taste; instead they were all fighting for a chance to taste a salad full of vegetables and fruit.

“I’ve never seen so many students excited to taste lettuce,” Allison chuckled.

Allison, a chef from Dole Nutrition Institute, visited the elementary school last week to hold a garden cooking challenge with fifth-grade students.

The students were separated into groups of four and given a mystery box of ingredients to use during the times competition.

As their peers cheered them on students Ben Darnell, Jesse Gomez, Amia Stanley, Connor Meadows, Emma Halling, Mercedeez Perry, Trenton McEevers and Elijah Day raced the clock with the help of Allison, Vernon and Bowman to create meals.

When the competition was over, the students waited anxiously as their teachers tasted the food. But everyone’s hard work paid off as the teachers called it a tie.

“They get to see on TV all the chef shows, but here they are getting to see their classmates and taste what they’ve grown and see they can eat healthy and it tastes good,” Wagner said. “These kids will go home today and tell their parents, ‘I had a salad today’ or ‘I had raspberries for the first time.’ So they will pick it up at the grocery store and we’ve connected with one more cook.”

Plus, as Carter said, learning to cook at a young age can never be a bad thing.

“It will just help us in the future to know about cooking and about food,” Crosby said.

To kick off the event, Plants for Human Health Institute’s (PHHI) STEM educator Amy Bowman and School Garden Coordinator Doug Vernon, harvested ingredients for the salad from the school’s new garden.

The gardens at Pitts School Road Elementary School were installed in August thanks to support from a PHHI grant secured by first-grade teacher Erika Currin. Part of the grant included continued professional development and classroom support to ensure that teachers in all grades are equipped to fully utilize the garden and enhance learning opportunities for students.

“They didn’t know what to expect because the whole garden thing is new. Some of them have never seen a fresh fruit in their life. They thought the food showed up at the grocery store,” fifth-grade teacher Elizabeth Wagner said. “So they’ve been very excited to go to the garden and water and see the plants sprout.”

Allison began the event by leading students in preparing a “Star Wars Fall Fruit Salad” featuring lettuce directly from the school’s garden. The salad also included pineapple, raspberries, pecans and a homemade dressing.

When it was complete, each student was given a sample.

“It was really good. I liked how it had fruit, nuts and dressing because I like pretty much all food. I like to have a variety,” student Carter Crosby said. “It’s really awesome to be able to see a world-renowned chef like him. I think it’s really cool he’s coming here with this group and actually letting the kids get involved with the project.”

Then it came time for the mini cooking challenge where eight students who were selected by their teachers tried their hand at creating a tasty, nutritious recipe.

Originally published in Independent Tribune.