Four acclaimed Minneapolis chefs competed alongside Minneapolis Public Schools middle school students May 8 in the district’s third-annual Junior Iron Chef competition.
Lucas Rosenbrook of Alma, Molly Herrmann of Kitchen in the Market, Marshall Paulsen of Birchwood Café and Vincent Francoual of Cara Irish Pubs each worked with teams of two students to create and cook a meal for a panel of celebrity judges. The teams had about an hour to conceptualize, cook and plate their creations before presenting them to the panel at the Solar Arts by Chowgirls building in Northeast.
The event aimed to raise awareness about fresh food and efforts around healthy eating within Minneapolis Public Schools, said Bertrand Weber, director of Culinary and Nutrition Services.
“It’s really about connecting Minneapolis Public Schools with the local culinary community,” he said. “It’s a really nice example of top chefs getting involved.”
The district has moved away from serving prepackaged meals out of a central kitchen to preparing fresh foods at individual buildings under Bertrand’s leadership. It’s in the process of installing kitchens in each building and has also worked to install salad bars in schools.
The district has also created the True Food Chef Council, a partnership between Weber’s department and the Minneapolis restaurant and culinary community. The council aims to spread the word about the positive changes on Minneapolis’ lunch menus, said member Tracy Singleton of Birchwood Café.
She said the council has helped fundraise for the salad bars and has contributed recipes to MPS.
Herrmann, a member of the True Food council, worked with seventh-graders Darah Ross and Tiana Novack at the Iron Chef event to create potato and lentil salad with radishes and homemade empanadas with an ancient grain called farro turkey and cranberries. She said it was fun to work with the girls, adding that the hardest part for them was chopping evenly.
The secret, Tiana said, is to make sure you move your fingers as you go.
Darah and Tiana, best friends who attend Northeast Middle School, said they thought it would be scary to cook in a competition, though it turned out to be fun. The girls have been cooking since third grade and like their food spicy, so Herrmann had to implore them not to add too much Sriracha sauce to their dish.
Adjacent to them, Ramsey Middle School eighth-grader Max Myrvik made tostadas with chorizo and a farro/lentil chili alongside Rosenbrook and Marcy Open School student Riyan Said. The trio earned the Iron Chef crown for their recipe.
Max said the dish exceeded his standards, adding that it was nice to learn from a pro chef.
“Cooking’s like one of the funnest things ever,” he said.
Judges for the event included Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, MPS Superintendent Ed Graff and School Board member Siad Ali, among others. The event came at the start of the district’s fourth-annual wellness week, about which more information can be found at nutritionservices.mpls.k12.mn.us/mps_wellness_week.