Young chefs test their culinary might

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Jasper seniors Caden Dugan, left, and Shelby Roach prepared bratwurst sausage and pineapple during the inter-school version of the Chopped! culinary class contest at Jasper High School on Friday. Teams from Jasper, Forest Park, Southridge, and Pike Central were given pineapple, avocado and bratwurst sausages and 55 minutes to create a meal. Jasper won with their dish of sausage tacos, pineapple salsa and avocado aioli.


JASPER — Area high school students assembled at Jasper High School on Friday for a food fight.

You read that right.

Simmer down, now.

The kids didn’t hurl sandwiches or milk cartons at each other during lunch. Instead, young chefs enrolled in culinary arts and food science classes at JHS, Forest Park High School, Southridge High School and Pike Central High School battled in an organized, competitive cooking contest similar to Food Network’s “Chopped” television series.

Jasper’s team of all-star cooks was crowned champion at the end of the contest for the chefs’ sausage tacos, but all the participants are winners for learning a practical skill that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Because unlike some of the knowledge crammed into the youngsters’ heads, the kids don’t ask, “When am I going to use this?” when they cook.

“That’s one thing I never have to answer, “said Christa Widolff, Forest Park’s culinary arts teacher. “They all see the application and they know that they’ll be able to use it down the road.”

JHS culinary arts teacher Kyla Beier revealed the students’ objective just moments before the 55-minute clock started ticking. Whatever dish they made — and eventually served to a panel of three judges with cooking backgrounds — needed to include bratwurst, fresh pineapple, and avocado.

The ensuing hour featured a fast-paced blitz of planning, coordinating, cooking, plating and finally, serving.

Brian Mendenhall of Indianapolis, a high school chef representative from Sullivan University's culinary arts program, center, was one of three judges in the contest. Mendenhall, along with judges Mason Herzog of Jasper and Shirley Messmer of Ireland, voted Jasper High School's dish as the winner.

Southridge created a dish with a hashbrown base topped with the required ingredients; Forest Park’s squad whipped together a sausage pasta; and Pike Central assembled toast spread with guacamole and layered with the meat, pineapple and more.

But it was Jasper’s tacos, avocado aioli and pineapple salsa that most pleased the contest’s critics, who judged the entries on both taste and appearance.

Longtime Jasper Middle School family and consumer science teacher Shirley Messmer was one of them, and she was pleased with all the teams’ efforts.

“I thought they all did a great job,” she said as students washed and packed up their dishes following the contest.

The event has been part of Beier’s classes for two years, but Friday’s contest marked the first time outside schools were invited to participate. Last spring, a team of JHS students competed against a team of JHS teachers. Beier hopes to continue hosting it annually to showcase the students’ talents.

“I think this contest is a great opportunity for kids because it shows another side of competition,” she said Sunday. “This contest isn’t academic nor athletic, but really shows a side of kids that others don’t get to see. We all watch cooking shows wishing we could do that — these kids can.”

Forest Park sophomores Thea Petry, left, Ashtyn Welp and senior Cole Oeding plated the sauce for their pineapple and spaghetti dish during the contest. Teams from Jasper, Forest Park, Southridge, and Pike Central were given pineapple, avocado and bratwurst sausages and 55 minutes to create a meal.

More on