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Students take part in Whipping Up Wellness competition

Pictured are the members of the St. Croix Central High School Wisconsin Student Chef Competition team that will be traveling to Madison on May 18 to compete in the finals of this year’s Whipping Up Wellness competition. Pictured are team members Nick Jones, Raini Denny-Broker, Noah Carlson and Luke Jensen. (Submitted photo)

A trip to the University of Wisconsin - Madison will determine if the St. Croix Central Whipping Up Wellness, Wisconsin Student Chef Competition team's spicy stuffed pepper with a creamy tomatillo sauce is good enough to be the top dish in this year's competition.

"These guys definitely set the bar and I hope other students in the near future will want to take on this adventure," said family and consumer science teacher Courtney Hawkins. "It is a lot of fun, but you have to be willing to experiment and be creative and accept failure."

SCC High School seniors Nicholas Jones, Raini Denny-Broker, Luke Jensen, and Noah Carlson make up the team that will head to Madison May 18 to present their original dish to a panel of five judges. The dish will be scored on nutritional content, recipe presentation, creativity, school food service reproducibility and culinary skills utilized.

"When we started the dish, it was really bland and didn't have much going for it. But we kept tweaking it and now I'm pretty confident in what we made," Jones said. "When we started with the recipe, it was bland and spicy, but lacking true flavor and didn't really have a body to it. It was just spicy. It was really cool, but difficult, to try to elevate the different spices and do what we could to bring out that nice, good bold flavor out of it instead of just having it be spicy."

According to Hawkins, the Whipping Up Wellness competition is a yearly event that she had seen a fellow teacher and her team take part in at her previous school.

"These boys wanted to take an independent study foods class. So I told them that this competition would be a good start to that," Hawkins said. "The students had to create an original recipe, so we went through the past cookbooks from the competition to see what has been done in the past and how we could make our own recipe from that."

All four students have already taken the three foods classes at the high school and were looking for a new class and a challenge this year.

"I think when we started this class, we needed something that would challenge us a little bit and Ms. Hawkins founds this Whip it Up for Wellness where you had to come up with your own recipe and to tweek it to what you think is good," Carlson said. "It took a lot of practice to get the recipe right, it definitely wasn't something that we made once and were done with. It was something we had to work harder to figure out what goes well with it. That is kind of how we decided to cook and get into this competition."

Students had one month to come up with a recipe and tweak it until they were happy with it. The planning of the competition went on for about two months total with all the research and brainstorming.

"It was fun to find a dish and elevate it to something more and better," Denny-Broker said. "We did a lot of experimenting with it, like trying to use brown rice, which wasn't really good. So we tried other things to make it taste better. I think it turned out really good."

The purpose of the competition, according to Hawkins, is to create a healthy lunch that could be served at a school. That meant the students had to meet all of the nutritional guidelines that the food service employees have to.

"The toughest part about getting the recipe down was following the specific rules and nutritional guidelines," Carlson said. "We had to figure out how much sodium was in the chicken and make sure we were watching all of those nutritional things for every ingredient. The fun part was cooking and tweaking the recipe. The most challenging part was when you had to do the dirty work and get it all down on paper."

The students had to ensure their recipe was low on saturated fats, contained whole grains if they used grains and had to have 480 calories total per serving. It also needed a dish that could be replicated in a commercial kitchen by food services.

"The idea of putting a competitive edge to it was something that really drew us to the competition," Jones said. "In our normal classes, it is more about learning and what skills you can learn. Now it is about taking those skills that we learned and trying to put them into a competitive atmosphere. That has been really fun."

After the submissions were all collected, the SCC team was selected as one of the five finalists to travel to UW-Madison for the final competition. As finalists, the team had to rewrite the recipe for a commercial kitchen so it would serve 48-50 people.

"They have to do that final part to give them an idea of what the school lunch program does other than just mass produce food," Hawkins said. "It really ties in all parts of STEM because they have to do all the conversions for 48-50 servings. You can't just put, 'We need five 1/4th cups.' You actually have to figure it out."

There are five judges who will critique the finalists' recipes and execution of their dishes. The students also have to give a 10-minute presentation on their dish where they must talk about the development of their recipe, why they used the ingredients they used, how they came up with the name and how they worked as a team to create everything.

"We came up with the recipe after looking through the books for the dishes that were entered in previous years. We saw some ideas that we liked, like a Mexican jambalaya. We thought we could tweak it, but put it in a pepper and make a stuffed pepper from it," Carlson said. "We just kind of got all the ingredients and spices we wanted and made it. We decided to stick with it because we could tweak it to where we really liked it and were confident in it."

Through all of their experimenting and tweaking of the original recipe, Hawkins feels the team's ability to continue, even when something doesn't work quite right, is a sign of maturity.

"I think failure teaches you how to learn best, especially in cooking," Hawkins said. "I think that is what puts them above some of the other students because they know, despite it being a risk, they know it is either going to turn out or it might not, but that is okay as long as you use that to figure out what you can do better next time."

For more information on the Whipping Up Wellness, Wisconsin Student Chef Competition by visiting dpi.wi.gov/team-nutrition/whipping-up-wellness.

"It has just been a fun experience," Jones said. "This class was kind of a test run for something like this and we were glad to be part of that. So far, it has been really fun."

Jordan Willi
Jordan Willi is a reporter for the New Richmond News. Previously, he worked as a sports reporter at the Worthington Daily Globe in Worthington, Minnesota. He also interned at the Hudson Star Observer for two summers and contributed to the Bison Illustrated sports magazine at North Dakota State University.
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