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Fun with food boils over at ImagineIF competition

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | February 22, 2020 2:00 AM

Food Network star Ted Allen wasn’t there to “chop” the participants, but young chefs still got a unique kitchen experience at ImagineIf Library’s “Chopped” cooking competition Thursday evening.

As part of the library’s Teen Maker Series, designed to build teens’ 21st century skills, 29 teen cooks raced against the clock and each other in an hour-long cooking competition.

Divided into four teams, chefs ages 11 to 17 competed to use appliances such as a toaster oven and hot plates to combine spinach, cream cheese, eggs, cinnamon and a buffet of random ingredients to create the best dish based on taste, presentation and creativity. Guest judge Hannah Bjornson from Ceres Bakery had the honor of tasting these “oddball” creations and bestowing the prized chef’s hats upon the winning group.

“This was so fun and I was so impressed,” Bjornson told the basement full of eager chefs after deliberating over the four unique dishes that ranged from crepes to noodles in soy sauce.

“There was nothing that I was like, ‘ew’,” she noted.

Each participant brought a different level of comfort and familiarity with the kitchen, but they were all challenged to work together, incorporate the various ingredients and prepare their dish before the hour was up.

Anna Edwards, the spokeswoman for the winning group, Team Cowboy, said she watches her mother cook all the time, and her father also loves to cook.

“It was kind of tough to work with other people, but it was a fun experience,” Edwards added before being anointed with a chef’s hat for her team’s winning concoction of French toast, eggs filled with cream cheese and a warm milk beverage similar to Mexican horchata.

Bjornson said Team Cowboy’s ingenious ability to keep the eggs warm—which came from Edwards’ idea to keep them heated in the oven while working on the rest of the dish—really helped the group stand out from the items prepared by the other teams, Team Weird Dinosaur, Team Stegosaurus and Team Teddy Bear.

“I could totally see Sykes serving something like this,” Bjornson said of the first-place breakfast dish. “That was all really delicious.”

Even those who didn’t win came away with new skills and lessons learned from the unconventional cooking experience. Bjornson offered feedback on everything she tasted, like suggesting Team Stegosaurus incorporate all of their ingredients more evenly and telling Team Teddy Bear their “artificial lemonade” was a little too sweet.

The teens themselves also had plenty of takeaways to share after their trial-and-error experiments in the kitchen.

Team Stegosaurus admitted they had some trouble with the consistency of their “Mystery Drink;” the secret ingredients of milk and maple syrup started to separate slightly by the time they served the beverage to Bjornson.

Not to be confused with Team Stegosaurus, Team Weird Dinosaur said they had a few issues creating their meal—dubbed “Business in the Front, Party in the Back”—of toast, eggs and salad. The dish started out as cookies, but they quickly decided ingredients like spinach didn’t lend itself to this idea. But when they switched to a breakfast dish they forgot to incorporate the cream cheese until the last minute, which Bjornson picked up on during her judging.

Even the champion team confessed their cream cheese-filled eggs were originally supposed to be in the form of an omelet, but they had to adjust their presentation when this ambitious creation didn’t quite come together.

Aside from a fun experience and a few tastes of some unconventional foods, the teens at the Chopped event also took away useful “soft skills” like teamwork and experimentation.

Organizer Ellie Newell said the Teen Maker series is designed to “hit lots of bases, soft skills people need to succeed and thrive in the workplace as well as citizens.”

She and fellow organizer Ashley Palmer highlighted assets such as creativity, exploration and tinkering as some of the soft skills fostered by the cooking competition.

Newell said the event provided an opportunity for these helpful skills to be “snuck into a simple cooking exercise.”

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at bserbin@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4459.

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From left, Judith Young, Tanisi Patel, Rita Sharbono and Nicolette Desch work on their dish during an ImagineIF “Chopped” event, part of the library’s Teen Maker Social program, at ImagineIF Library Kalispell on Thursday. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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Eli Brown and Samuel Foreman make whipped cream for their dish during an ImagineIF Chopped event, part of the library's Teen Maker Social program, at ImagineIF Library Kalispell on Thursday. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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From left, Judith Young, Rita Sharbono, Tanisi Patel and Samantha Young work on their dish during an ImagineIF Chopped event, part of the library's Teen Maker Social program, at ImagineIF Library Kalispell on Thursday. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

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From left, Miles Dodge, Nevaeh Bowen, Marin Colley, Cayden Mahan and Leila McGillivray put some finishing touches on their dish during an ImagineIF Chopped event, part of the library's Teen Maker Social program, at ImagineIF Library Kalispell on Thursday. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)