HHS Culinary team finishes fourth in competition

By BUSTER WOLFE,

At least one of the judges really liked Hattiesburg High School’s entry in the first-ever Junior Chef competition sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Education’s Office of Child Nutrition.

“One of the judges even had a to-go plate of our food,” said Jana Gonzalez, the Hattiesburg High School instructor who directed the team’s four competitors Monday at Oak Grove High School.

Gonzalez said Hattiesburg High School is honoring the culinary team’s “Chicken Quesadillas” entry.

“They are going to put our quesadilla on the lunch menu at the high school,” she said after her team was judged Monday. “The only comments they received were that one girl forgot to remove her fingernail polish the night before and she wore a nose ring. They were strictly cosmetic.”

The four team members from Hattiesburg High School are Ashlen Bell, Tamera Elbert, Cameron Spencer and Cha’Keerah Williams.

OGHS hosted the Central Mississippi “Savor the Flavor of Mississippi” competition Monday and Tuesday featuring seven of the state’s participating 15 schools, with awards of scholarships up to $16,000 for each team member. State winners who qualify to go to regional competition can earn full tuition and fees for each student – valued at $45,000-55,000 – to Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky.

Teams that competed at Oak Grove High School along with Hattiesburg were Rankin County, Wayne County, two teams from Hinds Community College-Vicksburg-Warren and Oak Grove, which won the competition Tuesday.

Oak Grove culinary teacher Debbie Miller said the reason for the low turnout in the state is because the deadline for submission was early in the school year.

“This is something new to Mississippi,” she said. “Not everybody is participating because the turnaround is so quick. We had to send the recipes into MDE Office of Child Nutrition. We also had to have the nutritional analysis for each item, so that it fits into those guidelines.”

Because the competition is Mississippi-based, teams must use at least two Mississippi products. The other honor that goes to the winning team in the state is that the top recipe will be reproduced in each of the state’s school lunch menus. So the availability of ingredients in the cafeteria is mandatory.

State winners receive $16,000 in scholarship money for each first-place team member, followed by $12,000 for second place and $8,000 for third place. In the regional competition, besides the free tuition and fees for the top team, second-place finishers will receive $47,000 each, while third place wins $20,000 each.