PARKERSBURG - Nearly 60 school cooks gathered Friday at Parkersburg South High School to battle for bragging rights in Wood County Schools' first "Iron Chef"-style competition.
The competition and training session challenged cooks to create healthy dishes using pre-determined ingredients.
Beverly Blough, director of food service for Wood County Schools, said recent changes in state and federal nutrition guidelines have made planning and preparing school meals more challenging.
Photos by Michael Erb
Sue Woodward, an assistant superintendent of schools in Wood County, left, and U.S. Foods Territory Manager Sean Stanley, right, review an ingredients list while judging a dish Friday at Parkersburg South High School during Wood County Schools’ first “Iron Chef”-style competition for school cooks.
"We do have the challenge with these new menus of finding recipes that meet those standards and taste good," Blough said. "Our cooks are very creative. Often times they are creative outside the rules. What I want to do is allow them to be creative within the rules."
The district's 27 schools were represented by 12 teams of cooks. Blough said each group was given a list of ingredients Wednesday.
On Thursday the teams were asked to create and test recipes for two dishes which combined used all the ingredients. The teams were allowed to use additional ingredients which could be found in their school kitchens, but no outside items were allowed.
On Friday each team produced 2-3 menu items and a small group of judges evaluated each dish on presentation, flavor and use of ingredients.
Sue Woodward, assistant superintendent of school services for Wood County Schools, acted as one of the judges at Friday's competition.
"I loved it," she said. "It put all the parts together: Working as a team, being creative, working within set boundaries. It was well received by the employees. After the judging they all got to eat the food, and it led to a lot of discussions between the cooks. It's the kind of hands-on learning you see with kids, only applied to adults. They took pride in their schools and in the dishes they will be serving to students."
Blough said many of the dishes will be refined and tested with staff, students and parents before being added to the school menus.
Blough said Friday's first-place winner was a Mexican Lasagna created by the team from Williamstown High School, Williamstown Elementary School and Waverly Elementary School. Second-place was the Sunshine Breakfast Bowl created by Parkersburg High School's team, and third place was the Delightful Yogurt Parfait by cooks from Greenmont, Neale and Vienna elementary schools.
Each of the three first-place schools will have certificates to display in their cafeterias and the opportunity to have a small piece of kitchen equipment purchased for each location, such as electronic scales, Blough said.
And, of course, there are bragging rights, she said.
"It was a really great event and I was pleased with everyone's enthusiasm," Blough said. "It was a good opportunity for the cooks to get their ideas out in front of everybody."
About 58 full-time cooks were involved in the competition. Blough said numerous other part-time cafeteria employees attended other training sessions on Friday.
"This year we concentrated on those who are involved in the actual food preparation," for the competition, Blough said.