Cooking up competition in the kitchen

by Morgan Smith

Three south Charlotte independent schools will fight for glory next month. Their weapons of choice? Spatulas, whisks and whatever else they can dig up in the kitchen.

Middle school students at Charlotte Christian, Providence Day and Charlotte Latin will compete in the Flik Invitational Cook-off, an Iron Chef-like competition hosted by Flik Independent School Dining. This is the first time the event will be held in Charlotte.

“There’s always been a rivalry – it’s always been friendly, but if nothing, we’re very competitive,” Cindy Normand, director for dining services for Charlotte Latin, said about the students and chefs. Normand is assisting her school’s chef with practices. Chefs have been prepping their students with practices after school in and out of the kitchen, and each group had lessons on kitchen safety, sanitation and knife safety. Each team is allowed only six practices prior to the April 18 event.

Now it’s time to get serious about cooking.

Chefs worked with their teams to create a menu, which includes an appetizer, main course and dessert. During the competition, students have 45 minutes to prepare the courses for six judges to taste and a seventh for display. Each team is judged on taste, presentation, creativity, nutritional balance, team participation and sanitation.

Although teams prefer to keep their menus secret until the actual competition, at least one dish from every group will incorporate North Carolina-grown sweet potatoes, compliments of the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission. The commission is donating sweet potatoes to Loaves and Fishes food pantry.

“Part of our philosophy is to use locally grown food – those are things that just make it a little more interesting,” Ray Mulligan, president of Flik, said.

Although the cook-off is aimed at offering some friendly competition between rival schools, the real mission is to give back to the community.

“Independent schools are very community-oriented and by operating in the schools, (Flik chefs) become part of those schools,” Mulligan said. “So I thought our company needed to do something to help give back to the community.”

All cook-off proceeds benefit Loaves and Fishes. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students and the public is invited. The event is April 18, a Wednesday, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Providence Day School, 5800 Sardis Road, and includes a reception following the competition with food prepared by Flik’s team of executive chefs.

Meet the teams

Charlotte Christian’s Knight-Shades

Charlotte Christian’s Knight-Shades

For Charlotte Christian School’s team of seven, David Stowe, the school’s chef manager, said he’s excited to take a backseat and let the students have their shot in the kitchen.

“It’s really an event for the students to have fun,” Stowe said. “What I want to be is supportive and (available) for instruction.”

The group of six seventh-graders and one eighth-grader, known as the Knight-Shades, a pun on the vegetable group known as nightshades, is not only excited to have their shot in the competition, but to become chefs of their own. In just three sessions, the students learned various skills like sautéing, as well as health tips like the different cutting boards for vegetables and meat and proper temperatures for cooked food.

“I’m not really nervous because I think we’ll be pretty well prepared when we go,” eighth-grader Brenna Knight said. “I think we’ll have tons of fun while we’re there and I’m just really excited.”

Stowe has been in the food industry for nearly 23 years.

Providence Day School

Providence Day School

Providence Day’s team of six sixth-graders and one eighth-grader already have their eye on the prize – bragging rights over the two other rival schools.

“I (think it’s) going to be really exciting since we are going against schools that we already compete with,” Caroline Ortiz, a sixth-grader on the team, said. “We’re definitely in it to win it.”

Caroline, along with the rest of her team, has been busy working with the school’s executive chef, Darly Hartsell, on knife skills and sanitation. The group’s menu is still being finalized, but Hartsell said you can bet his team’s food will have a southern twist.

“We are doing southern – I’m from the South,” Hartsell said. He hopes to expose his students to southern cooking with added flare. “The big thing about this school is that the kids’ palates are really diverse, so hopefully I got something they haven’t tried yet.”

Hartsell has been a chef for around 11 years, but began cooking at a young age with his grandmother. The team’s name had not been chosen as of South Charlotte Weekly’s press deadline.

Charlotte Latin’s Hunger Hawks

Charlotte Latin’s Hunger Hawks

Charlotte Latin may have an advantage with their eight-member team, but they’re hoping to use that eighth person, within their budget, to surprise judges with an added bonus.

The team, which is made up of four sixth-graders and four seventh-graders, call themselves the Hunger Hawks, a mixture of the well-known book series the Hunger Games and the school’s mascot. They’re coached by the school’s chef, Christopher Zion.

For the cooking palate, Zion opened up menu suggestions to the students, deciding on a seafood dish as the main course, while remembering the 45-minute time limit.

“Obviously it’s going to be a challenge, but we really built the menu to accommodate the time,” he said.

The students are not only excited for an opportunity to beat their rivals, but to be part of a greater initiative to give back to the community through Loaves and Fishes.

“We’re making food and people will get food, so that’s really cool,” sixth-grader Mary Elizabeth Anderson said.

Zion has been a chef for more than 15 years.

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