BVSD students compete ‘Iron Chef’-style to get dish on lunch menu

Green chiles and Southwestern flavors featured heavily in recipes created by Boulder Valley middle school students battling to get their dishes on the school district’s lunch menu.

The challenge for Wednesday’s annual “Iron Chef” competition at Boulder’s Arapahoe Ridge High School was to create a tasty, healthy dish with a “Colorado favorites” theme. Boulder Valley uses the annual cooking challenge to generate lunch ideas from students and educate parents and students about the district’s challenges and limitations

Students districtwide will have the option to eat the winning dish, green chile mac and cheese, at lunch during the next school year.

Teams must create a dish that is delicious, meets the USDA nutritional guidelines, doesn’t cost more than $2.25 a plate and is easy to replicate. Entrees were judged by Boulder Valley food service managers and three guest judges, two from Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Boulder and one from Premier Members Credit Union.

“It’s so heartening to see the enthusiasm of these young people for cooking,” said Escoffier Chef Suzanne Prendergast. “They really put some thought into it and had a lot of collaboration.”

Mia Gricci, left, and Mari Siedler, of Angevine Middle School, work on their dish Wednesday. Area middle school students competed to cook the winning dish during the Iron Chef competition. The winner will be included in next year's school lunch menu. (Cliff Grassmick ??

Wednesday’s cook-off featured six student teams from three schools: Broomfield’s Aspen Creek K-8, Lafayette’s Angevine Middle and Louisville’s Monarch K-8. Along with scoring a place on next year’s school lunch menu, winners received cash prizes for their schools.

A four-student team of seventh graders from Monarch K-8 — Evan Schmidt, Ben Brodsky, Lily Brodsky and Lydia Christensen — used their love of green chile breakfast burritos for inspiration. They created the winning green chile mac and cheese hoping it would be easy to make in large quantities, given that a basic mac and cheese was already on the school lunch menu.

“Green chiles are a very Colorado thing,” Evan said. “At last year’s competition, we made a stir-fry the judges said wouldn’t be easy to mass-produce. We wanted something easy this time.”

Added Ben, “It’s something new that’s fun.”

Aspen Creek sixth grader Delaney McGannon-Bilder teamed with seventh grader Kenley Bayless on a dish that put a Colorado twist on a Texas favorite with Colorado caviar. Their dish included beans, corn, peppers, tomatoes, chicken and cheese, plus a garnish of guacamole and sour cream.

“It tastes amazing, and it’s almost a universal dish,” Delaney said. “Everybody is bound to like it.”

She said she likes watching cooking shows and entered the competition because she wanted a similar experience.

“I love to cook,” she said. “Cooking is how I can get away from everybody else and do my own thing.”

Aspen Creek seventh graders Jocelyn Wayer and Chloe Bujosa featured Anaheim chiles in their chili verde Colorado, which also included beef, pork and a whole-grain tortilla on the side.

“Chiles are one of the main staples of Colorado,” Jocelyn said. “Green chiles just have a good amount of flavor to them. It’s simple, yet creative.”

Chloe added they removed the seeds from the chiles to keep the spice level down so all students could enjoy it.

“I’m really not for spice whatsoever, and I love this dish,” she said.

While most dishes featured Southwest flavors, a team of two seventh graders from Angevine went a different direction, cooking chicken fried rice. Mia Gricci said her research found the dish is popular with Colorado residents, while it’s also gluten-free so her sister, who was diagnosed with celiac disease, can have more lunch options.

“It’s really tasty and also really healthy,” she said.

Andrew Gambale and Koda Nakamura, eighth graders at Monarch K-8, originally wanted to make glazed trout with a peach and radish salad. But they switched to glazed pork because of concerns about the cost of trout and the challenges of cooking it in large quantities.

“I wanted to do peaches because, Palisade peaches,” Andrew said. “I love peaches.”

Aspen Creek sixth graders Alexis Colclasure and Claire Allen modified Alexis’ grandmother’s chili to fit the competition’s nutrition guidelines, adding “a lot of beans” plus BBQ sauce to “make it more Colorado.” They also left out the cheese so lactose-intolerant students would have more choices.

“It’s something new,” Alexis said. “We want to change things up.”

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