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ECHHS Jr. Chef Team Wins Silver Medal in Virtual Cook-Off

The North Carolina Jr. Chef competition only began as a statewide Career and Technical Education (CTE) event four years ago, but East Chapel Hill High School (ECHHS) Culinary Arts Teacher, Michael Holman, has supervised two teams that made it to the finals, in 2019 and again this year. The weeks-long process of competing was entirely virtual, but Holman’s three students, Jared Pascarelli, Devin Hackley and Brayden Wolfe, kept their eyes on the ball and won a Silver Medal for their original entree, Blackened Chicken Taco Salad with Citrus Crema.

Holman said this year’s competition came with many challenges beyond the usual practice-intensive class time, since each student underwent the instruction and competition entirely in virtual platforms. He said, “Each student chef made different parts of the recipe at their separate location, with one student chef having to do all pieces of the recipe alone.”

The NCDPI press release explained, “For the competition, teams applied with their recipe ingredients and instructions, recipe photo, nutrient and cost analysis, time management plan for preparing the recipe within the 90-minute time limit, and a video of their team preparing and plating their recipe. The Jr. Chefs also participated in a live interview to present their culinary creations to a panel of evaluators. Teams were evaluated on their recipe development skills, food preparation, marketing, public presentation, organization, and use of locally grown products. Teams were required to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, recommendations from their local health departments, guidance from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and their local schools or districts.”

Holman said, “Jr. Chef Competition is a great way for students to look into the operations of school nutrition. Students were able to discern the in's and out's of meal planning with CHCCS, while engaging in competition with students across the state.”

Chartwells Registered Dietitian, Lynne Privette, helped the students view their recipe from the nutritional angle, as well as analyze ways to keep sodium, calories and costs down.

"By requiring that the student recipe meet stringent school nutrition guidelines for calories, fat, and sodium; be approved through student taste tests; and come in at a reasonable cost, the NC Jr. Chef Competition opens up students' eyes to the very difficult task faced by school nutrition professionals daily," Privette said. "Child Nutrition is so very proud of the work of Jared, Devin and Brandon, and their instructor Mr. Holman - what a great experience to develop, prepare, and present your creation at the state level.”

NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) School Nutrition Specialist, Tracey Bates, said in her congratulatory message, “All the teams did a fabulous job. It is not easy to create a school lunch entrée recipe that meets National School Lunch Program requirements, includes at least two North Carolina-grown ingredients and one USDA Foods item, and appeals to students. The teams took on this challenge making history by doing so as part of our first-ever virtual competition in the midst of varied learning models and a pandemic. The judges were amazed by the students’ culinary, plating and presentation skills and the creativity and diverse flavors represented in the recipes. We are so proud of all of the students, and we know you are, too. Congratulations again on a job well done!”