Education

Young Atwater chefs get a taste for healthy cooking

Tara Avila, 14, prepares her award-winning oatmeal during the Future Chef’s Event at Bellevue Elementary School in Atwater. Tara’s oatmeal, “Tara’s Oats,” won first prize at the competition.
Tara Avila, 14, prepares her award-winning oatmeal during the Future Chef’s Event at Bellevue Elementary School in Atwater. Tara’s oatmeal, “Tara’s Oats,” won first prize at the competition. mvelez@mercedsun-star.com

Healthy food was on the menu during a friendly cooking competition for five aspiring young chefs in Atwater.

Five students from Bellevue Elementary School and Mitchell Senior Middle School gathered for the Future Chefs Event. Each student came up with their own healthy breakfast recipe and presented their creation to family, friends and, perhaps most importantly, four judges.

The first-place winner on Wednesday afternoon was Tara Avila, 14, an eighth-grader at Mitchell. Tara made oatmeal with light brown sugar, bananas and almond milk, saying that her idea stemmed from what she and her family eat regularly at home.

“Well, actually, in my house, we eat healthy all the time,” she explained. “I put fruit in it (oatmeal) because it makes it taste better.”

Avila said she was asked to be in the Future Chefs Event and said she would give it a try.

Second place went to Elizabeth Girtarner, 12, a seventh-grader at Mitchell, who prepared a vegetarian egg burrito. The third-place finisher was Mathew Alvarado, 10, a student at Bellevue Elementary who prepared “Mathew’s Pizza” on French bread with turkey sausage, jalapeños and green bell peppers.

The students were judged in five categories: originality, healthy attributes, easy preparation, kid-friendliness and plate presentation. The judges rated them on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest number.

Mark Stefanelli, owner of Cheffanelli’s Catering, was asked by Linda Levesque, the assistant superintendent for business services, to be one of the judges.

“When she said it was for the kids, I said yes right away,” Stefanelli said. “Anything for the kids.”

Levesque said it was a great opportunity for kids to show off their skills and give them a chance to “shine.” The Future Chefs Event was put on two years ago and the schools decided to bring it back this year.

“Allowing them to research recipes that are healthy ... I think that is phenomenal,” Levesque said.

Lisa Ludwig, food service supervisor for the Atwater Elementary School District, and Sandra Sanchez, food service consultant with Sodexo, partnered to head the event in hopes of showing young students the benefits of learning how to cook or getting into the culinary industry.

“Going to college isn’t for everyone, and this gives them a technical opportunity,” said Sanchez.

Sanchez and Ludwig both help with a program in June for students, similar to summer school but focused on the culinary arts. Children have opportunities to learn cooking skills and how food gets from the farm to the table. Twelve students attended the classes last year. Ludwig says she hopes for another class this summer.

“I hope they take away that culinary arts is an opportunity for a future,” Ludwig said.

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