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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Norwich middle school student chefs compete in cookoff contest

    From left, Grant Scroggins and Zach Frommelt, seventh graders, prepare their Alfred’s Alfredo while participating in the Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School student cooking contest Friday, May 24, 2024, at the school hosted by food services company Chartwells. (Dana Jensen/The Day).
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    From left, Jaddiel Aldarondo and Eleanor Flores, eighth graders, look at basil for the chicken alfredo they are preparing while Libby Burgess looks at the selection for the baked ziti she and her partner Evie Roeske are making during the Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School student cooking contest Friday, May 24, 2024, at the school hosted by food services company Chartwells. (Dana Jensen/The Day).
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    Judges eat and take notes during the cooking contest held at the Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School for students Friday, May 24, 2024, at the school hosted by food services company Chartwells. (Dana Jensen/The Day).
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    From left, Principal Brandi Lumpris, Head Chef Nizam Saada, director of dining services with Chartwell, present the winners of the Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School cooking contest Phoebe Wu and Brianna Sorkin, seventh graders, certificates and whisks Friday, May 24, 2024, at the school hosted by food services company Chartwells. (Dana Jensen/The Day).
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    Brianna Sorkin, center, and Phoebe Wu, right, seventh graders, work together preparing their cream mushroom pasta while they and fellow Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School students participate in the student cooking contest Friday, May 24, 2024, at the school hosted by food services company Chartwells. Sorkin and Wu won the contest. (Dana Jensen/The Day).
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    Norwich ― When these Kelly STEAM Magnet Middle School students say they are cooking pasta with cream of mushroom or cream of chicken, they are not opening cans of soup.

    Four teams of two students squared off Friday in the Cooking Creations cookoff sponsored by Chartwells food service with the winners having the chance to get their signature dishes on future school menus. The magnet school’s winning team will meet the winners of the Teachers’ Memorial Global Studies Middle School team on June 10 for the school district cooking championship round.

    By 8:30 a.m. Friday, the Kelly cafeteria was filled with the aromas of an Italian restaurant, as students started cooking various pastas, sauteed butter and garlic, chopped vegetables and herbs and slowly stirred white sauces, adding parmigiano or mozzarella cheese to their pans.

    Chartwells provided a table stocked with fresh vegetables and herbs, and provided some foods already prepared for the students, such as cooked chicken, shredded cheese and sliced mushrooms.

    Nizam Saad, Chartwells director of dining services for the school system, answered questions about working their small individual stoves or the table of ingredients, but generally kept hands off as the students made their dishes.

    In advance of the contest, the students received lessons on food safety and knife cutting. All participants wore black chef’s uniforms and hats, which they get to keep. Each received a wire whisk with “Discovery Cookoff” stamped on the handle. The winning team received gold medals, and second place received silver medals.

    Student contestants said they got their recipes from their parents or grandparents and said they added their own touches.

    Seventh graders Grant Scroggins, 13, and Zach Frommelt, 12, used Grant’s mother’s recipe for fettuccini alfredo. They each pulled a noodle from the mixture and tried it. Grant said they might have added too much pepper.

    “Yeah, but it’s good,” Zach responded.

    He then headed for the vegetable store to pick up salad ingredients. Chartwells staff retreated to the kitchen to get him the cucumber and lettuce he requested.

    The Kitchen Crusaders team of eighth graders Jaddiel Aldarondl, 14, and Eleanor Flores, 14, made chicken alfredo with a recipe they in part got from their parents and in part made up by researching how to make good alfredo sauce. Jaddiel said he tries to cook at home when he gets the chance.

    Team PB members Brianna Soskin, 12, and Phoebe Wu, 13, used a family recipe to make cream of mushroom pasta, with broccoli, mushrooms and chicken.

    “My mom taught me to make it when I was younger,” Phoebe said. “Whenever we have guests over, we make this. They always enjoy it.”

    Seventh graders Libby Burgess, 12, and Evie Roeske, 13, used Libby’s grandmother Lisa Burgess’ recipe of baked ziti, Italian sauce, cream of chicken and parmigiano and mozzarella cheese for the contest.

    “I’m going to add a bit more cheese,” Evie said after a quick taste of the sauce.

    Judges, including Acting Superintendent Susan Lessard, school district Athletic Director Louis Allen, school district Business Administrator Robert Sirpenski, Kelly Principal Brandi Lumpris and School Resource Officer Heather Meickle took peeks as the students prepared their meals. They didn’t mind that they were sampling pasta dinners and salad at 9:30 a.m.

    Each team described their dishes briefly as they presented them one at a time to the judges and answered questions on how the dishes were made.

    “You’re all winners,” Sirpenski said to the students after the judging was done. “Deciding which one was first was so hard. I just want to thank you. I would come to your house for family dinner, these were all so good.”

    Lessard said she loved the students’ enthusiasm and their smiles.

    “One of the most important things you guys did is you had fun,” Lessard said.

    Lumpris said she too was proud of all the contestants.

    Student chefs Soskin and Wu jumped, shrieked and hugged each other when Lumpris announced Team PB was the winner.

    “I thought it was really fun,” Soskin said. “I just wanted to do something like this, because it makes me happy. I enjoy cooking a lot.”

    The two winners rushed to the cafeteria window, where several friends had gathered waiting for the contest to end.

    “We won! We won!” they said slapping hands on the windows.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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