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A student culinary team from Clyde A. Erwin High School in Buncombe County won third place in the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition May 9-10 with their Hot Asheville Chicken with Farmers Market Salad paired with a Cool Carolina Strawberry Smoothie. The team of three students, who call themselves the Caliente Cowboys and Cowgirl, represented North Carolina in the first-ever regional competition held at Sullivan University in Kentucky.


The Buncombe County team outcooked seven other student culinary teams last month to win the first North Carolina Jr. Chef Competition and advance to the Southeast regional contest.


Maxwell High School of Technology from Gwinnett County, Georgia, won first place in the regional competition with their Bowl’d Farm Fresh Burrito Bowl. The Montgomery County, Kentucky, 4-H Team won second place with their Farmer’s Luau Chicken.


These top three teams competed against Selma High from Dallas County in Alabama (Triple K.D. J. Chicken Curry Soup with Fiesta Wrap and Mango Salsa), Bloomingdale High from Hillsborough County, Florida, (T & G Burrito), and College and Career Technical Institute from Pascagoula-Gautier School District in Mississippi (King Catfish Creole Burger with Sweet Potato Chips, Crispy Kale Chips and Seasonal Fruit Kabob with Cinnamon Honey Glaze).


Sullivan University in Kentucky awarded students in the top three winning teams with scholarships to attend their university. For first place, each student team member received full tuition and fees (value of $45,000 – $55,000 each). For second place, each student team member received tuition (value of $47,000 each). Third place team members each received a $20,000 scholarship.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition and challenged each of the eight states in the Southeast to identify a team of students to represent their state at the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition. Students were challenged to work with their local School Nutrition Programs to develop a recipe to meet National School Lunch Program nutrition standards, include at least two ingredients grown in their state and one USDA Foods item, and meet student taste preferences.


For the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition, teams had two hours to prepare their dish and two minutes to present their recipe and student taste test results to judges. Serving on the panel of judges were Jason Smith, winner of the Food Network Star Season 13; Elizabeth Gross, Farm to School Coordinator, Tennessee Department of Education; Erin Healy, Director, Office of Community Food Systems, USDA; Chef David Dodd, Executive Director of National Center for Hospitality Services and Chef Whitney Fontaine, Instructor, both from Sullivan University; and Robin Bailey, Regional Administrator, and Joi Parks, Regional Nutritionist, both of the USDA Southeast Regional Office.


As third-place recipient in the Southeast regional competition and winner of the North Carolina cook-off, the Buncombe team was recognized Friday evening during the Thrive NC festival in Raleigh hosted by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. The student chefs took the stage among celebrity chefs Andrea Reusing (Lantern), Cheetie Kumar (Garland) and Ashley Christensen (Poole’s Diner).  The students shared their experience with the Jr. Chef Competition and how they created their recipe. A student team from Ashe County High, which took second place in the state competition, presented Thursday night at the Thrive NC Festival among well-known chefs Vivian Howard (Chef & the Farmer), Sam Jones (Sam Jones BBQ) and Teddy Diggs (Il Palio). The Thrive NC festival showcased talented chefs and producers from across the state and was paired with a day-long summit that highlighted the need for healthy food access for all.


More details about the North Carolina Jr. Chef Competition are available online. Additional information regarding School Nutrition Programs in North Carolina can be found on the School Nutrition Services website. USDA and NCDPI are equal opportunity providers and employers.