Hightower Chefs win in “Chopped – Cafeteria Manager Edition Competition”

The winning Hightower High School team is shown with event sponsors and judges. Pictured (front row, from right) are: Jenieffe Heaven, Child Nutrition Department Assistant Director; Gail Stotler, Child Nutrition Department Director; winning team members Cathy Lupo, Stella Smith and Grace Dede; Mike McKie, FBISD Interim Superintendent; and (back row) Stephanie Kellam, FBISD Student Wellness Coordinator; Wendy Brooks, SHAC member and owner of Berryhill and Jambone’s restaurants; and James Ives, Chopped event emcee.

As a spinoff of the Food Network’s television show “Chopped,” Fort Bend ISD hosted its first ever “Chopped – Cafeteria Manager Edition” event that brought together Child Nutrition Department staff in a friendly cooking competition.

Leading their teams were contestants Janet Adkins (Burton Elementary), Danita Brown (Oyster Creek Elementary), James Donald (Sugar Mill Elementary), Darlene Elewodalu (Colony Bend Elementary), Maria Gomez (Child Nutrition Department), Deona Hardy (Quail Valley Middle School), Donna King (Dulles Middle School), Sherry Morgan (Walker Station Elementary), Grace Olushola (Colony Meadows Elementary), Stella Smith (Hightower High School), and  Habibat Yakubu (Travis High School).

To judge the event, the District invited students, Fort Bend Foodies and community leaders. They included students Mason Taylor and Miriam Dickey (Garcia Middle School), Tori Rowe (Sugar Land Middle School), Kaci Rowe (Townewest Elementary), Rebecca Fernandez (Jordan Elementary), and Marcus Gillespie (Technical Education Center Culinary Arts Class). Adult judges included: Mike McKie, FBISD Interim Superintendent; Sonal Bhuchar, former FBISD School Board Member; Brenda Bowman, Executive Director of the Fort Bend Literacy Council; Tona Henson, former FBISD Cafeteria Manager; Kelly Buettner, Social Editor of Fort Bend Lifestyles and Homes Magazine; and Teresa Cox Reading, Community Volunteer.

Held in Dulles High School’s cafeteria, the event included three rounds of competition: Breakfast, Vegetarian, and Non-Vegetarian. During each round, contestants were challenged to prepare healthy, creative meals using ingredients found in a “mystery box.” The breakfast round, for instance, included eggs, Greek yogurt, refried black beans, corn and pineapple. Contestants could choose to add other ingredients from the pantry to make their meal complete.

With 25 minutes on the clock, contestants raced back and forth between their prep stations, the pantry and kitchen to prepare for the judges a winning meal. Unlike the television show, contestants were not eliminated following each round and thus avoided hearing the dreaded, “You’ve been chopped!” The District competition instead announced the winners of each round at the end of the competition, with the highest scoring team being named winner of the competition.

In the end, the Hightower team was named 1st place winner for creating a scrumptious turkey pasta soup. The team received $530, a fruit basket from Edible Arrangements, gift cards, and the opportunity to have their meal featured at the District’s Epicurean event for a chance to be included on next year’s school lunch menu. “I am so happy right now,” said Stella Smith, leader of the winning team. “I feel like we’ve won the lottery!”

“This was an exciting event that gave our Child Nutrition staff the opportunity to be recognized for their outstanding culinary skills,” said Mike McKie, Interim Superintendent and event judge. “The chefs offered us a wide variety of tasty dishes to judge. I knew when I tasted Hightower’s soup that it was a winning meal. I applaud all of the contestants for their hard work.”

The competition also named Travis High School as 2nd place winner, and Colony Bend Elementary as 3rd place winner. In addition to both schools winning Edible Arrangements and gift cards, Travis High received $330 and Colony Bend earned $230.

“My hope is that from this event the cafeteria managers feel more integrated into the school culture,” said Stephanie Kellam, FBISD Student Wellness Coordinator and member of the SHAC Nutrition subcommittee. “They can play such a powerful role in educating our students about the importance of healthy eating, and we need to celebrate them whenever possible.”

Kellam coordinated the event along with Jenieffe Heaven, Assistant Director of FBISD’s Child Nutrition Department; and Wendy Brooks, SHAC member and owner of Berryhill and Jambone’s restaurants. They would like to thank all of the sponsors (UnitedHealthcare, Berryhill, Jambone’s, I Eat Sugar Land, Antonia’s Cucina Italiana, Ruggles Green, Edible Arrangements, Ragin Cajun, The Rouxpour, and Activate4Kids) for supporting the event. Special thanks also go to James Ives for serving as emcee, the Dulles High School JROTC and Yearbook Committee, the Technical Education Center’s Culinary Arts class, FBISD Child Nutrition Department and the District’s SHAC for their role in making the competition a success. The District plans to make the “Chopped – Cafeteria Manager Edition” an annual event.

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