CONCORD -- Elementary students stepped into the world of professional cuisine with local chefs, preparing an array of epicurean delights for the first annual Cooking with Kids culinary competition.
An amazed Samia Fustok, a Bancroft Elementary School fourth-grader, took home the Grand Champion trophy, a gold medal in the healthiest category with her Lebne recipe. Gold medal winners also received a $25 gift certificate for a school team celebration at Rocco's.
Lebne is a Middle Eastern yogurt/cheese appetizer decoratively topped with cucumber slices, olives with tomato, mint and sweet red pepper bits, Samia said. "It is a family recipe. My mom makes it a lot."
The purpose of the Iron Chef-type culinary experience Nov. 7 was to promote wellness and proper food choices, said Tim E. Watson-Williams, nutrition services supervisor for the Mt. Diablo Unified School District.
"That doesn't mean that it can't be fun," he said. "We want to get kids engaged in the cooking process, especially when it is made from scratch. It almost forces them into learning how to make better food choices."
Watson-Williams said the event went so well that he and district food service director Anna Fisher are already planning for next year.
"The kids love it, especially being mentored by a professional chef," Fisher said. "They are learning the artistic aspects, mathematics, sanitation, to work as a team, take direction and pride in their accomplishments."
Samia said she is inspired. "I'd like to try again next year. I have another recipe in mind."
Contestants flourished in the intense action of a steamy, crowded commercial kitchen at Concord High School. They seamlessly served up dishes such as Shrimp Alfredo, sesame green beans and curried chicken for 85 guests, as if it came naturally.
Moresi's Chophouse Chef Kenny Byrne did mention helping the Mt. Diablo Elementary team multiply Lindsey Wilker's gold medal-winning recipe for Most Fun/Kid Friendly, Chocolate Cookie Dough Truffle.
As Lindsey's teammate Olivia Yoshii meticulously dipped chocolate cookie dough balls in more chocolate, she seemed oblivious to a steaming tray of baked chicken passing by and did not notice Fiore' Chef Habib Jacifi demonstrate plated dessert presentations.
With Jacifi's coaching, Westwood Elementary team member Emma Dell won the gold for Best Plate Presentation with her Emma's Brownie Delights recipe.
"All of the kids really knew the recipes and did it themselves," Harvest Market Chef John Martinez said. He and Chef Damian De La Rosa mentored the Bancroft Elementary School team with thoughts on garnishes, safety and instruction on "how to not ruin a pan."
Gregory Gardens Elementary student Robert Blanton's Hano Burger won the gold for Best Tasting, with a little assist from David Marcovici from Jack's Restaurant in Pleasant Hill.
Judges Dr. Steven Lawrence, school district superintendent, and school board trustees Cheryl Hansen and Linda Mayo, and CARES administrator Gretchen Jacobs, ran overtime analyzing the virtues of 16 dishes. Some even had to go back for seconds to be sure of their choices.
The recipes and chef contestants will soon be on the Mt. Diablo school district website at www.mdusd.org. Click on department and the Food and Nutrition Services link.
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.
Mt. Diablo Elementary, Clayton
Westwood Elementary, Concord