CANTON The timer started ticking and youths started cooking Saturday at the first North Country Junior Iron Chef challenge.
Dozens of young chefs brought their pots, pans and portable stove tops to St. Lawrence University to prepare a dish that would entice the judges.
There were two competitions: one for middle school students and the other for high schoolers. Teams had been perfecting their recipes since November, when the competition was announced.
The 90-minute clock added a dash of tension, as did the crowd of spectators.
The event was about more than bragging rights and a tasty meal. Each recipe was preapproved by the judges and included at least two local ingredients and two U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity ingredients, which typically are used to make school lunches. Organizers said they hoped the emphasis on healthy meals would find its way back to school cafeterias.
Were always looking for hands-on activities for kids to learn about healthy food and also get excited, said Sarah Bentley-Garfinkel, school program director for the St. Lawrence Health Initiative.
The event was inspired by a competition in Vermont, which in turn borrowed from Iron Chef, a popular competitive cooking television show.
Ms. Bentley-Garfinkel said she plans to bring back the competition as an annual event and to get schools more involved in healthy eating.
A team of culinary students from the North Franklin Educational Center, Malone, took home the top prize for high schoolers with its chipotle black bean grilled cheese sliders.
Three middle schoolers from Heuvelton Central School took home the prize for their Central Valley Harvest Bake, made with rice, squash, onions and more.
All three chefs said they have liked cooking from a young age.
You get to experiment and, once it tastes good, you can be like, Yeah, I made that, said seventh-grader Jordan L. Fisher of Heuvelton.
This sense of experimentation was a must as teams tried to create a recipe both healthy and tasty that used the required ingredients.
Ninth-grader Abby P. Brown, of Northern Adirondack Central High School, Ellenburg, doesnt really like vegetables, so her team gave her the task of creating a veggie pizza that even she would enjoy. She turned to the list of suggested ingredients for inspiration.
I just went through the list and found things that went together, she said.
The pizza was pitted against two other dishes at her school cafeteria and was voted the school favorite, making it the clear choice for the competition.
Some of the other high schoolers have culinary aspirations.
One team of three culinary students from the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services Seaway Tech Center, Norwood, wore professional chef uniforms as they prepared a vegetarian korma, an Indian dish.
We tried a whole bunch of different things, and this turned out the best, said 11th-grader Kayla D. Fenn. We really love culinary.