Return to Headlines

First K-12 Culinary Extravaganza Judged a Triumph

On January 27, it was anything but a “regular” Monday for the lucky staff at Lincoln Center, who were invited to taste and vote in the first K-12 Culinary Extravaganza, hosted by the CHCCS Child Nutrition Department. A few minutes before 2 p.m., Central Office staff began to join the celebration in the Board Room, where eight district Culinary Ambassadors had converted the space into a pop-up food fair.

These Child Nutrition graduates from the North Carolina K-12 Culinary Institute showed off their new skills and showcased recipes developed during their training over the summer. The Institute is offered through the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction School Nutrition Services, providing face-to-face and online instruction for school nutrition personnel.

Four serving stations were set up around the Board Room. At each station was a pair Culinary Ambassadors, who had cooked two dishes and designed their colorful and creative displays. The ambassadors were chosen from school cafeterias around the district, so not every school had representatives in competition.

“Our K12 Culinary Extravaganza combined several key components including customer service skills, teamwork, community service, and of course, learning new preparation and culinary skills,” said Lynne Privette, child nutrition dietitian. “K12 culinary recipes expose our associates to new food items, help add to their culinary repertoire, and allow them to understand all the requirements that go into creating recipes and menus for a school menu.”

K12 culinary chefs Each associate looked sharp in their black chef’s coat, and the emphasis on presentation and appearance was evident in every aspect of the competition. Although they had been preparing their dishes since early that morning, then transporting and setting up the entries, everyone wore big smiles and seemed to enjoy the banter and information-sharing with their “customers”.

The event involved two competitive aspects, a Chef’s Choice winner, judged by Ryan McGuire, executive chef at the Governor’s Mansion, and an attendee voting component to help decide which dishes will appear on future CHCCS school menus. All attendees were encouraged to vote for their top three favorites.

McGuire served as the District Chef before taking his new job in Raleigh, and he seemed delighted to be back among former colleagues and friends. “I hope that they all continue to approach Child Nutrition in new and creative ways as they’ve done with the K12 Culinary Team,” McGuire said. “I think these sort of events and friendly competitions can have such a positive affect that can be passed on from school to school.  Seeing how the Child Nutrition teams showed up to the event, looking very professional with their Chef coats, and how proud they were of their beautiful creations was really amazing.”

K12 culinary winners As decision time rolled around, Director of Dining Liz Cartano, gave a brief background on the event and its partner, PORCH, and introduced McGuire to reveal his decision for the winning team. When he announced the team, Top Chefs, everyone cheered, especially the winners, Antoni Wilson and Nicole Garland. The dishes they presented were Spinach Chicken Alfredo and Sweet Kale Salad.  The recipes for these dishes will appear on every menu sent to families from Child Nutrition, as well as be served in all school cafes.

Earlier this month, the Culinary Ambassadors voted on the non-profit they wanted to support as part of the event, and PORCH came out a clear winner. Employees at Lincoln Center were asked to contribute non-perishable goods during the week prior to the Extravaganza, and by Monday afternoon, the containers were overflowing with donations.

PORCH Director Debbie Horowitz and Becky Hebert, coordinator of the Food for Schools Program from PORCH, came to support the drive and to taste and vote on the dishes. Horowitz said, “We loved attending the Culinary Extravaganza. We are so lucky to have Child Nutrition Department specialists that really care about the quality and taste of the food they are offering our children every day. Not only do they do a great job with the food, but they are kind, welcoming and fun. The event showcased their talents but also showcased their enthusiasm and dedication to their work. PORCH Chapel Hill-Carrboro was honored to have benefitted from the non-perishable food drive that was also a focus of the event. We look forward to distributing the generous donations to the 15 pantries we serve through our Food for Pantries program. We are so grateful for the ongoing partnership between PORCH and the CHCCS Child Nutrition Department.”

“I especially enjoyed the Thai Chicken Stir Fry, the Hawaiian Chicken Wraps and the Kale Salad,” Horowitz added. “While the Chicken Alfredo team won the competition, they are all winners in our book!”

Privette said, “Inviting our colleagues and guests to sample and vote for their favorite recipes helped positively reinforce the benefits of school meals, which support the Whole Child environment at each and every one of our CHCCS schools.” 

Culinary Ambassador Teams:

Top Chefs- Antoni Wilson and Nicole Garland

Spinach Chicken Alfredo and Sweet Kale Salad

Dynamic Duo- Yolonda Ware and Misty Paisant

Thai Chicken with Broccoli and Cinnamon Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Hula Hula Eastsiders- Edward Eusebio and James Riggsbee

Hawaiian Chicken Wrap and Roasted Broccoli Parmesan

Southern Comfort- Sherry Markham and Ja’Kori Moore

Southwestern Mac ‘n Cheese and Blueberry Crisp

Take a look at a brief video about the event.