The winning table displays their dishes

By Gary Alinder

You’ve all watched the Food Network’s Iron Chef: two chefs have an hour to prepare five dishes based around a secret ingredient, and three judges award points based on flavor, originality and presentation.

Last week I had the privilege of being a judge at an end-of–term Iron Chef contest at Berkeley’s Willard Middle School. Berkeley has the reputation of being a wacky place, but some great things happen in that singular East Bay City. I find it remarkable that, in a program funded mostly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Berkeley students learn healthy cooking and gardening beginning in kindergarten.

Prepping the secret ingredient: peaches

I’ve been an Iron Chef judge at Willard before, and I’m always impressed by how much effort and skill these kids bring to the contest. They take it seriously. In addition to the criteria used on the TV show, Willard students are also judged on teamwork, recipe writing and clean-up.

Of course, these are young people with still a lot to learn, but I have to say, the food was done on time, and looked and tasted good.

Stir fry expertise

Among the dishes they made: muffins, stuffed potatoes, strawberry crèpes, French fries, sugar cookies, fried veggies and fried rice, latkes, and fruit salad.

I so appreciate everyone who contributes to this wonderful program. We hear a lot about the problem of obesity and poor nutrition among our youth, but in Berkeley they are actually doing something about it, and the kids seem to love it.

Dividing up the muffin batter

Teacher Susanne Jensen demonstrates the wood-burning pizza and bread oven

Gary Alinder is a freelance chef who writes the MacroChef blog, where this piece first appeared.

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