Future Chefs show Sodexo how it’s done


Wonton Taco Cups by Emmie Picchi (photo courtesy of Alice Picchi)

On March 24, I got a chance to see some 10- and 11-year olds tear up the kitchen in a positive way.  Nine finalist of District 47 competed in the third annual Future Chefs competition. The competition, hosted by food service provider Sodexo took place at Hannah Beardsley Middle School in Crystal Lake.  

 This year’s culinary theme was healthy Asian food. To be eligible to compete, students submitted recipes to their teacher and school cafeteria worker for consideration. One finalist from each District 47 elementary school participated in the cook-off where students prepared their recipes for a panel of judges. Students’ culinary creations got evaluated based on originality, ease of preparation (recipes must be able to be made in 30 minutes or less,) presentation, kid-friendly appeal, and healthfulness.

I had such a good time interviewing the kids.  They were so enthusiastic about cooking, and Emmie Picchi,  was just tickled to death to be the first place winner and go home with a basket full of cooking tools, a FitBit, and a few fun toys. Just look at this beaming face. [tweetthis]”I cried tears of happiness,”[/tweetthis] Emmie told me.


Emmie, is 9½ and in the fourth grade.  Her recipe was crunchy Wonton Taco Cups.  She’s been cooking for a year or two. She got interested in cooking because her mom and dad love to cook.  She watches about half of the cooking shows on the Food Network.  “Guy Fury is my favorite,” Emmie told me. “I like how he goes through different towns and tries different recipes.” Emmie doesn’t always help with the clean up.  “We clean up as a family.”  Emmie says her older brother, 15, makes his own meals because he’s a vegetarian and a vegan.  “I think I won because mine was a combo of Asian and Mexican.” She enjoys making a variety of ethnic foods. “Try your hardest,” Emmie advises. “Just have fun and you’ll be a winner.” Emmie is from Woods Creek Elementary School.

Sophia Waddell with her little sister and brother.

Sophia Waddell, is 11 years old today and she’s in the fifth grade.  This is her second year in the competition and she took second place.  This year Sophia went for fast and easy.  “I didn’t need to use the kitchen a lot,” she explained.  “I just needed to rinse my lettuce.  It just took three minute. – Whooo!”  She made Thai Peanut Lettuce Wraps.  “Everyone came over and took pictures because it looked so good.”  She advises competitors to make sure there’s few ingredients and fast preparation.  She planned to do something Filipino with rice because she’s half Fillapino.  Sophia’s dad says both his girls cook and bake a lot.  Sophia began cooking seven years ago.  Vivian, Sophia’s 7-year-old sister, plans to compete in the future.  Sophia asked Vivian to decorate her birthday cake this year. Sophia watches an Australian baking show called Zumbo’s Just Desserts. They also watch a lot of YouTube videos like How to Cake It, Rosanna Panzino, and The Slow Mo Guys. That last one is not a cooking show, but still, one of my favorite YouTubers, too. Sophia goes to Coventry Elementary School.

[tweetthis]“Too often we hear about obesity in kids and kids not making healthy choices,”[/tweetthis] said Kathy Wicinski, Sodexo general manager. “The whole basis for this competition is to help educate kids about healthy eating habits and inspire them to play an active role in meal preparation.”

Competition participants received a framed plaque, medal, chef’s coat and apron as well as a backpack with cooking utensils. The lucky winner received a grand prize, which includes a basket of cooking supplies and a Fitbit, as well as an opportunity to advance to the regional culinary competition.   The program, now in its eighth year as a national event. It’s part of Sodexo’s commitment to health, well-being and support for the school districts and communities it serves.   

Shaun Brewis,  10 years old and in the fourth grade, prepared a chicken wrap recipe has an Asian inspiration.  He’s been cooking a few years.  “When I was little, I always cooked with my dad.” He tried out for Master Chef Junior in Chicago.  “They told me about this thing [with Sodexo,] and I signed up straightaway.”  Shaun’s mother told me that the Master Chef Junior competition provides a week of classes for their young chefs. Shaun got a bronze medal in the Sodexo competition.  He says that he doesn’t make a mess when he cooks and he helps clean up. Shaun goes to Canterbury Elementary School.

Sodexo provided the tools and ingredients to prepare the foods.  Sodexo also provided “production kitchen” tools like cut gloves, and lessons on how to use the tools.  Each competitor got a black plate for presentation.  The chefs’ creations were judged on health, presentation, taste, and ease of preparation. The event is designed to educate students about good nutrition; help develop healthy eating habits; and inspire students to play an active role in meal preparation.

Emmie’s mom, Alice, and Denise Barr, Coordinator for Community Relations at District 47 supplemented this post with some of their photos.

As I sorted through the photos, and tried to figure out what I wanted to include, I got a little giddy. I hope this slideshow helps you get as excited as I am about “these kids today.”   I can only hope that my Wonton Taco Cups plate up as beautifully as Emmie’s.

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The nine Future Chef Finalists from District 47. From left to right:  Shaun Brewis-Canterbury Elementary 4th grade, Imani Trotter-Indian Prairie Elementary 5th grade, Sophia Waddell-Coventry Elementary 5th grade; RUNNER-UP, Dilana Esposito-North Elementary 5th grade, Alyssa Johnston-Glacier Ridge Elementary 4th grade, Olivia, Cangelosi-Glacier Ridge Elementary 5th grade, Audrey Wise-North Elementary 5th grade, Allegra Shetsky-Husmann Elementary 4th grade, Emmie Picchi-Woods Creek Elementary 4th grade; WINNER