Last Thursday I took the train to Brooklyn to judge the 2nd Annual Teen Iron Chef Invitational culinary competition. And what a revelation!
At this competition, teens from all over the Metropolitan area met each other for the first time and prepared the zesty recipe they were randomly assigned. They worked under the pressure of a limited amount of time. Each participant was wearing the T-shirt that read STIRRING UP CHANGE.
Soon after we arrived, each team came out of the kitchen with great fanfare and showed the awe-struck crowd of judges and parents just how each dish was made. They also told us about the history of the dish and the nutritional highlights of the ingredients. And then they passed around the delicious tastes!
The genius behind Teen Iron Chef is Lynn Fredericks, a colleague of mine who has championed a “get kids into the kitchen” campaign for as long as I’ve known her–going on 30 years.
Teen Iron Chef is a division of Lynn’s FamilyCook Productions. The Invitational I attended was co-produced with HealthCorp, founded by Dr. Mehmet Oz. Amazingly, this partnerhsip is now empowering students in Teen Iron Chef culinary/nutrition programs in over 70 schools across the country. “We are expanding rapidly,” Lynn told me in her smiling, calm, nothing-is-too much-for-me way.
The recipes were challenging and the food was outrageously tasty, each one of a different ethnicity. There were braised collards in coconut milk from Kenya and tamales from Mexico, a zesty tabbouleh from the Middle East, and a fragrant fruit tropical salad. Each dish was beautifully plated and garnished.
Before the presentation began, the judges had learned that some of the students participating in this program had been challenged both in school and at home. Some were foster children manifesting attention deficit disorder. Others had been truant, had behavior issues, and were getting failing grades in their classes.
For many, learning to cook has been the avenue to a new kind of life, one with a career path they can feel passionate about. Of equal importance, these teens have a growing awareness about healthy diet eating. Not only do they now know how to select and cook vegetable-based entrees for themselves, many have begun preparing nutritious meals at home for their working parents.
Stirring up change? You better believe it!
In the first clip, you’ll hear how the Teen Iron Chef and Health Corps programs have changed the life and dietary choices of Nayasha Alexander:
Here’s a team preparing tabbouleh:
Here you’ll see a creative team approach to hummus. But first learn some nutritional facts about the ingredients!
Learn about the history and preparation of tamales from this pan-Latino team: