Lunch Dates: Kids Can Cook

My latest culinary adventure takes “lunch dates” to a new level. The Cook’s Warehouse has a cooking camp for kids and they need a judge. The location is less than 2 miles from my house so there is no downside here.
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The advice to pace myself is the best advice of the afternoon. I’ve never judged a food competition before but I do watch them on TV, so that makes me perfect for the job.
The children are from 10 to 17 years old, but our group is probably in the 13-15 year old range.
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They must cook, plate and present their offerings to a panel of 3 judges. Chef Peter Rubin, Cooking School Director Wendy Allen and I have the easiest job of the day because we get to eat!

First up is the “Honey Bees”, a group of 6 campers who have been cooking since 10AM. They lead off with a fruit smoothie. Berries, mango, and pineapple provide the bulk of the flavor, the presentation is beautiful and unfortunately I removed the fruit kabob garnish before I took this picture.
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The theme is sweet and savory and now we will feast. The next offering is a plate with a sausage stuffed mushroom and a pimento cheese stuffed pepper wrapped in bacon. The very impressive chicken and waffle features a maple butter, savory spices inside the waffle and surprisingly moist fried chicken, topped off with a perfectly seasoned arugala salad. The judges are duly impressed.
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For dessert, the Honey Bees wow us with an apple pastry that is topped with a homemade caramel crunch and served with sea salt ice cream (which they confess they have not made in Warehouse kitchen).
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It’s time for plate clearing and the second team, which calls itself “Anonymous”. This group uses their brain power to come up with their own theme (breakfast, lunch, dinner) within a theme (sweet and savory) rather than a team name. The breakfast offering is up first and they call it “a reason to get out of bed in the morning”. It’s a very sweet banana pastry which is glazed with espresso icing and served with a cup of espresso (wasted on this tea drinker). It’s sort of like starting out with dessert, and when your motto is “life is short, eat dessert first”, you probably don’t mind.
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Next is a Banh Mi sandwich for “lunch”. It contains meats, kimchi, tomatillo, peppers and it reminds me of a Po-boy.
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And finally the “dinner” is another 3 course offering which starts with a different take on stuffed mushrooms.
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Pork loin with fig and apples.
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And finally whimsical sugar cookie sandwiches with buttercream filling.
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It’s a feast for the ages. We are judging on Presentation, Taste, and Creativity. Both groups excel in plating beautiful offerings and the judges work hard to narrow down a winner. The Honeybees buzz off with the grand prize and pose with their cooking coach and the judges.

Photo courtesy of Diane Fennig
Photo courtesy of Diane Fennig
Anonymous shows some long faces, but since everyone gets to eat, we are all winners at this competition.
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The verdict: It’s not easy to be a judge, but I enjoy the experience and if asked back I shall return! This is an impressive group of teachers and students preparing the next generation of chefs!

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