Combine the intensity of Food Network cooking show contestants focused on a win, the perennial excitement of state fair competition, and the pure, whole-hearted spirit of youth, and you get the annual Cook This! 4-H culinary challenge.
Now in planning for its fifth year, this event is organized by the Iowa 4-H Youth Development program and held at the Iowa State Fair. Last summer, 84 contestants signed on, a 30% increase over 2012.
The team taking first place in the Senior division (shown above) included Leah (left) and Lauren Mosher (center) from Conrad, Iowa, and Landra Reece from Boone, Iowa (right). In addition to other components of this multifaceted competition, they successfully prepared three dishes within a set time constraint.
Cayla Taylor, 4-H youth program coordinator, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, outlines the rest of the tasks. “In addition to the culinary competition, youth participants competed in a communications challenge in which they had to develop a presentation on food- and nutrition-related topics as well as test their produce and equipment identification, food safety, and food science knowledge. The teams of three were evaluated on creativity, food safety, communication, and teamwork,” she says.
The Senior participants made French dishes, and the other two age divisions, Junior and Intermediate, prepared Creole and Argentinean foods, respectively.
Here are the members of those two winning teams:
Junior (grades 5 and 6)
- Jessica Kratz
- Anna Plathe
- Lauren Sobaski
Intermediate (grades 7, 8, 9)
- Lucas Henkelman
- Leonora James
- Hannah McCoy
Timing is everything
Entrants in grades 10, 11, and 12 comprise the Senior division. If Leah, Lauren, and Landra don’t look like high schoolers, they’re not. They’re 13, 14, and 14, respectively. Because of a scheduling conflict, they couldn’t be at the fairgrounds the day their Intermediate division competed.
“We told them they could participate, but they would have to compete at the Senior level. They did, and they won. Their performance is a testament to their hard work, teamwork, and their preparation,” says Taylor.
The recipes and presentation topic are announced by contest organizers early in the summer.
“We encourage participants to practice preparing the recipes as a team. Someone chops, someone’s in charge of the sauce pan, and so on. Since they have to do the cooking within a certain amount of time, there is pressure to work well together,” says Taylor.