Marquette Trio Wins Michigan Junior Chef Competition

06/3/2013

From left: Brittany Dagenais, Sara Beck, and Kelsey Eaton present their winning recipe. (view larger image)

From left: Brittany Dagenais, Sara Beck, and Kelsey Eaton present their winning recipe.

On May 9, 2013, eight teams came from around the state to compete in the third biannual Michigan Junior Chef Competition on the Michigan State University campus. Teams consisted of 3-4 students in grades 7-12 working with an adult coach. The eight teams that competed in the cooking competition were finalists in a recipe contest where twenty-seven teams submitted a unique recipe for a healthy school lunch meal featuring both Michigan-grown foods and foods available to schools through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Top recipes from the 2011 competition were compiled into a cookbook for school food service staff and a similar cookbook will be created for 2013.

This year, three high school seniors from Marquette took home the grand prize in the competition. Brittany Dagenais, Kelsey Eaton and Sara Beck just graduated high school, where they participated in the Marquette-Alger Regional Educational Service Agency culinary program at Northern Michigan University. Brittany and Kelsey were second year students in the program. They were part of a winning team in a different competition last year and wanted to come back this year to show what they had learned and help train first year students.

For this competition, the three young women came up with their own recipe for a sweet potato burrito featuring spinach, pinto beans, garlic and red onion from Michigan as well as a Michigan brand whole wheat tortilla. Instead of sour cream, they used a high protein and low fat Greek yogurt. On the side, they prepared baked cinnamon tortilla chips and a five fruit salsa.

The team’s recipe—a sweet potato burrito with a fruit salsa and baked chips—will be featured in a cookbook for school service staff.

The team’s recipe, a sweet potato burrito with a fruit salsa and baked chips, will be featured in a cookbook for school service staff.

When coming up with the recipe, Brittany, Kelsey and Sara started by thinking of familiar foods popular with high school students. After deciding on a burrito they looked for ways to use nutrient-dense, bright colored foods as well as things that could be sourced locally. “Before the competition, I realized I didn’t know what grew in Michigan,” said Brittany Dagenais, “so it was cool to learn about where things come from.”

The students did their own cost and nutritional analysis of the recipe, crucial information for a recipe to be useable in a school food service setting. Their coach, Professor Chris Kibit of Northern Michigan University, felt the competition was a great opportunity for the students to develop their skills in all of the key components of school food service. Kibit is excited that each of these three young women will be entering the Northern Michigan University hospitality management program as college students this Fall. Dagenais, who thinks of cooking as art, aspires to working in a restaurant that uses lots of local food. But according to Kibit, culinary training is valuable even for those who don’t want to stay in the industry. “I want to get kids excited about good food,” he says. “It’s a good life skill.”