Nearly 80 4-H'ers from all over Sussex County put their cooking skills and nutrition knowledge to the test on Saturday.
The children and teens, who ranged in age from 5 to 18, participated in the simultaneous Favorite Foods and Food and Nutrition contests held at Sussex Technical High School near Georgetown.
"These events are a great way to introduce kids to making their own dishes and learning about cooking and nutrition," said Bridgeville resident Marian Carey, who chaired the competitions. "While it might not lead to a career for all our 4-H'ers, I think these competitions are a great way for them to try something new that might lead to a lifelong hobby or a passion."
For the Favorite Food Contest, the 4-H'ers prepared recipes of their choice and set them out on special place settings they designed themselves. Each contestant then explained their dish to a judge who quizzed them on their dish, as well as it's preparation and presentation.
"I like that when you find something you like, you can change the recipe around little bit and make it your own," said Sussex Tech freshman Shannon Bradley, a veteran of the cooking competition whose Bay Biscuits – inspired by a recent family trip to Red Lobster – went on to win first place in her age group's bread division. "I think it's best to make what you like, not what they think will win. Then when you're interviewed by the judge, you can't be shy."
Six-year-old Carter Bradley of Laurel, one of several younger children who participated in the event for fun rather than competition, said he and his mother came up with the idea of making pancake cupcakes together.
"I took pancake batter and put them into cupcake pans with little ingredients inside like pecans, blueberries or chocolate chips," he explained. "I think they all taste good, although the chocolate chips are my favorite.'
Carter's mother Jennifer, a former 4-H'er at Woodbridge High School, said events like the Favorite Foods Contest have far-reaching benefits.
"It helps the kids learn socialization and life skills that they can apply in other ways," she said. "For instance, it teaches the kids how to follow recipes and they pick up kitchen skills, plus I think the one-on-one interactions they have with the judges is very good."
Matison Smith, an 11-year-old sixth grader at W.T. Chipman Middle School, said she chose to make Shower Spaghetti – a mixture of pasta, chicken and vegetables – after finding the recipe on Pinterest.
"I picked it because I thought it was more complex for my age," she said. "I had to cook butter, which is hard because it can burn and I get distracted easily, but I really like making it because it tastes good and it's a way to share my hobby."
Emily Stachow, a 14-year-old freshman at Cape Henlopen High School who prepared a dessert called Applelicious, said she joined 4-H earlier this year and was a little nervous to talk to the judges at her first competition.
"My brother joined 4-H and it sounded fun, so I joined too," she said. "It is fun and I would tell other people to try it because you learn a lot."
Saturday's event also featured the Foods and Nutrition Judging Contest in which competitors had to answer multiple choice questions related to measurements and cooking terms, identify kitchen utensils by their shape, determine single serving prices based on the cost of ingredients and grade strawberries based on their size, color and other factors.
"I think the nutrition judging is actually harder than the cooking," 15-year-old Kaitlyn Willin, a sophomore at Sussex Tech, who won first place in her age group's meat/main dish category for the Favorite Foods Contest. "I like cooking so anything that has to do with it is fun for me, but grading food and determining prices for serving sizes can be pretty tough."
Although the results of the Food and Nutrition Contest were not announced Saturday, 10-year-old Abby Krams, a fourth grader at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts, said she felt good about her performance.
"I've done it twice before so I knew to study ahead of time," she said. "I printed out a lot of information from the Internet a couple of weeks ago and sort of prepared myself. Once you know the information, it's really pretty simple."
FAVORITE FOODS WINNERS
The following 4-H'ers won first place at the Favorite Foods Contest held at Sussex Technical High School near Georgetown on Saturday: