North Carolina High School Students Place First in the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition

Students from Durham Public Schools’ Northern High School won the 2024 Southeast Jr. Chef Competition with their Crispy Taquitos with Chipotle Sauce recipe.

At the competition held last week at Nashville State Community College in Tennessee, Miles Bates, Salomon Garcia, Aiden Lankford and Isaac “Brody” Terry brought home the regional title for North Carolina and demonstrated that they have a bright future ahead as they pursue their aspirations of culinary degrees and careers.

Students were challenged to collaborate with their teachers and local school nutrition programs to develop a school lunch entrée recipe that adheres to national nutrition standards, includes at least two ingredients grown in their state and one USDA Foods item, and appeals to student taste preferences. Students from high schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southeastern Region are eligible for the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition.

The team, known as the Flaming Knights, created a healthier version of taquitos, a student favorite. They sautéed chicken with a variety of spices, black beans, carrots and North Carolina-grown cabbage, onions and zucchini. The junior chefs wrapped the filling in whole grain tortillas, which they baked in the oven. A homemade spicy chipotle dipping sauce accompanied the dish. To prove their recipe could work for school menus, the team prepared their Crispy Taquitos for all Durham Public Schools ahead of the regional competition. The taquitos were hit with their fellow students, quickly selling out across the district.

At the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition, teams had ninety minutes to prepare their dish and five minutes to present their recipe and student taste-test results to evaluators. Teams also submitted their recipe, a recipe photo, cost per serving, and nutrient analysis for evaluation. Evaluators observed the teams in action, taste tested the recipes and interviewed the Jr. Chef teams. Teams were assessed on creativity and innovation, the taste and appearance of their recipe, use of locally grown ingredients and USDA Foods, compliance with National School Lunch Program nutrition guidelines, culinary skills, food safety, organization, teamwork and general nutrition knowledge. Regional competition evaluators were impressed with the Flaming Knights’ creativity, teamwork, culinary and presentation skills, and knowledge of school nutrition and farm to school.

Teams from Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee competed in the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition. The Wildcat Catering Crew from Bath County High School in Kentucky won second place for their Wildcat Quiche, and the Golden Chefs from Golden Strip Career Center in South Carolina won third place for their Grilled Chicken Bahn Mi.

Winners of the regional competition received scholarships to attend Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky. Each student from the first-place team won a $10,000 scholarship, second place won $8,000 scholarships, and third place won $5,000 scholarships.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Southeast Jr. Chef Competition in 2018 and challenged each of the states in the Southeast to identify a team of students to represent their state through the competition. The N.C. Jr. Chef Competition is a partnership between the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s (NCDPI) Offices of School Nutrition and Career and Technical Education, the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services’ Farm to School Program, the Farm to School Coalition of North Carolina and the School Nutrition Association of North Carolina.

The goals of the Jr. Chef Competition are to encourage healthier eating habits, inspire the next generation of culinary professionals, stimulate interest in farm to school, and increase participation in school meal programs. Through participation in the Jr. Chef Competition, students and their teachers report a greater understanding of and appreciation for all that goes into creating appealing, quality, nutritious, affordable school meals.

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

Written by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.