Six middle school students, comprising three teams, clashed in the kitchen for a friendly cook-off that exhibited and tested their skills through making stir-fry and smoothies.

The competition, held at the Seaside High School culinary arts room April 22, was the finale of a four-week 4-H After-school Cooking Program. The free program, hosted by the Oregon State University Extension Service, is put on every year in Seaside for sixth- through eighth-graders, and students don’t have to be involved with the larger Clatsop County 4-H Club to participate.

“What we’re trying to teach the kids is kitchen safety, chopping skills and to not be afraid to try new things and just to be creative in the kitchen,” said Sandra Carlson, the 4-H coordinator for Clatsop County.

The program always culminates in a cook-off, held the fourth and final week. During the three preceding weeks, the students learned chopping skills by making quesadillas, salsa and guacamole; were instructed in making bread dough for pizzas; and practiced their cook-off dishes. The recipes vary from year to year, but the fundamental principles being taught often remain the same, Carlson said.

Previously the program was held at the Bob Chisholm Community Center, but because the space also was being used for other programs – which was not ideal for either group – the program was moved to the high school this year, Carlson said.

“We’re extremely thankful to be able to use this space,” she added.

For the competition, the teams had to make a stir-fry, rice and smoothie or infused water – although all the teams chose to make smoothies this time. Each team was required to use a different stir-fry recipe that they pre-selected, and it had to contain three to five chopped vegetables.

Team Anonymous, which included seventh-grader Kara Spell and eighth-grader Cori Biamont, cooked a pork pineapple stir-fry and made a strawberry smoothie with pineapple.

Seventh-graders Kayla Vowels and Briana Fraley, the Vegetarian Vampires, made a spicy chicken stir-fry and a banana smoothie using a sugar substitute.

Lastly, eighth-graders Dalton Smith and Madelynn Brown, the No Brainers team, made a Thai curry pork stir-fry and banana vanilla smoothie.

The judges evaluated the teams on etiquette, creativity and teamwork while they were cooking and then judged the dishes for presentation, texture and flavor. The judges consisted of Tita Montero, a city councilor and the Seaside Downtown Development Association executive director; Darren Gooch, Sunset Empire Park & Recreation District IT and marketing manager; Rod Nichols, a North Coast Food Web board member; Mary Gaffrey, who formerly worked in food service in the Astoria School District; and Mary Blake, a Master Gardner and North Coast Food Web board member. Some of the judges were repeats, while others volunteered their services for the first time.

“I’ve always wanted to be a judge on a cooking show,” said Montero, one of the first-timers, adding she now had been given a similar opportunity.

Blake expressed specific appreciation for a program that teaches children to cook.

“To experience kids preparing food for themselves and also for other people is a real, real privilege,” she said.

The judges determined team Anonymous excelled in the areas of kitchen etiquette and teamwork; the No Brainers placed first for the texture and flavor of their food; and the Vegetarian Vampires were noted for their delicious smoothie flavor and exceptional presentation. They each were given a gift bag from the OSU Extension Service.

4-H Program Assistant Jared Delay and volunteers Katie Paaso and Michael Hinton were on site to monitor the students.

Paaso, who has been involved with 4-H for 37 years, had a simple answer to why she’s stuck with it so long: “the kids.”

“When you look at them and you think, ‘this is our future,’ ... then you think, ‘we’re not going to be half bad, after all,’” she said.

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