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updated: 1/19/2013 8:27 PM

Cooks, students stir up U-46 competition

U-46 cooks coach students in the district's Junior Chopped contest

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  • Twin sisters Shelby and Jordan Stolz, 13, of Elgin work on their team's lunch dish in the final round of the Junior Chopped competition Saturday. The girls, along with teammate Allison Densmore, 13, of Hoffman Estates, were on the Cupcakes team from Larsen Middle School.

       Twin sisters Shelby and Jordan Stolz, 13, of Elgin work on their team's lunch dish in the final round of the Junior Chopped competition Saturday. The girls, along with teammate Allison Densmore, 13, of Hoffman Estates, were on the Cupcakes team from Larsen Middle School.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Competition judge Franco Riza Korur, a chef partner with Uno's of Chicago, takes a close look at work of the Swaggy Choppers team from Kimball Middle School during the final round of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition Saturday at South Elgin High School.

       Competition judge Franco Riza Korur, a chef partner with Uno's of Chicago, takes a close look at work of the Swaggy Choppers team from Kimball Middle School during the final round of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition Saturday at South Elgin High School.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Allison Marsh, 13, of Kimball Middle School and Swaggy Choppers coach Maria Martinez, realize their lunch dish has taken the win in the final round of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition Saturday at South Elgin High School.

       Allison Marsh, 13, of Kimball Middle School and Swaggy Choppers coach Maria Martinez, realize their lunch dish has taken the win in the final round of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition Saturday at South Elgin High School.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • The Swaggy Choppers of Kimball Middle School are cheered on by fans in the final round of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition Saturday at South Elgin High School. The competition was based on the Food Network show "Chopped."

       The Swaggy Choppers of Kimball Middle School are cheered on by fans in the final round of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition Saturday at South Elgin High School. The competition was based on the Food Network show "Chopped."
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • The Cupcakes team of Larsen Middle School work on their lunch dish in the final round of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition Saturday at South Elgin High School. Team members are twin sisters Shelby and Jordan Stolz, 13, of Elgin, and Allison Densmore, 13, of Hoffman Estates.

       The Cupcakes team of Larsen Middle School work on their lunch dish in the final round of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition Saturday at South Elgin High School. Team members are twin sisters Shelby and Jordan Stolz, 13, of Elgin, and Allison Densmore, 13, of Hoffman Estates.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Swaggy Choppers teammates from Kimball Middle School, Allison Marsh, left, and Erin Haerr, both 13, walk back from the judges' table after getting comments on their winning dish in the final round of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition at South Elgin High School. Martin Bello, 14, of Elgin, also was on the winning team.

       Swaggy Choppers teammates from Kimball Middle School, Allison Marsh, left, and Erin Haerr, both 13, walk back from the judges' table after getting comments on their winning dish in the final round of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition at South Elgin High School. Martin Bello, 14, of Elgin, also was on the winning team.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • The Swaggy Choppers team of Kimball Middle School -- Allison Marsh, 13, Erin Haerr, 13, and Martin Bello, 14, were named the winners of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition at South Elgin High School. Their coach was Maria Martinez (with her back to the camera).

       The Swaggy Choppers team of Kimball Middle School -- Allison Marsh, 13, Erin Haerr, 13, and Martin Bello, 14, were named the winners of the Elgin Area School District U-46 Junior Chopped competition at South Elgin High School. Their coach was Maria Martinez (with her back to the camera).
    Photos by Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

 
 

Lorna Allen has spent a lot of time around kids as a cook in Elgin Area School District U-46, but Saturday was the first time she actually worked with them closely.

Allen was among the U-46 cooks who volunteered to coach teams of middle schoolers during the Junior Chopped culinary competition held at South Elgin High School, the first of its kind at the district.

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"I've been cooking for about 40 years, including in the Army, and I really enjoyed working with the kids," she said. "I saw how their imagination works, and how they cook with new items. I hope to do it more."

Staff from the district's nutrition services department and faculty from the career and technical education department teamed up for the event, in which eight teams from each of the district's middle schools squared off to prepare dishes judged by a panel of chefs.

The students, all eighth-graders, had taken at least one semester of the family and consumer services rotation class. The Junior Chopped event was inspired by the Food Network show by the same name.

The competition consisted of three rounds -- snack, breakfast and lunch -- during which the three-member teams got baskets of common ingredients, a secret ingredient and recipe suggestions.

Competitor Ryan Chanthavong, whose Ellis Middle School team made it to the second round, said it was hard, though fun.

"I think to win you have to have really good team work and communicate with the workers. You have to listen to each other's advice and ideas," said Ryan, whose team's repeated use of blueberries as a garnish was criticized by judges.

The Swaggy Choppers team from Kimball Middle School ended up eking out a narrow victory over The Cupcakes from Larsen Middle School.

The judges praised the Mediterranean and Italian flavors the winning team used in their final lunch dish.

Kimball competitor Martin Bello said his team at first was going to make an omelette, but went with scrambled eggs because they didn't have the proper pan.

"A lot of people think it's stressful because you're under pressure," he said. "I thought it was actually really fun because it's not like it was going to decide my whole life. So I had fun with it."

Martin's mother, Ana Bello, said she was really happy he participated. He always helps her in the kitchen and especially likes to bake cookies, she said.

"If they are really into it and interested, they can become great chefs. It can be a path for the future," she said.

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