Maine’s first annual Farm to School Cook-off promotes locally grown goods

The Maine Department of Education launched its first Farm to School Cook-off this month with volunteer, food service staff teams representing five school districts and communities. The cook-off is part of the State’s child nutrition projects and follows legislation to support healthy meals in schools.

Team Songo Locks School from RSU 61 took the first regional cook-off against Team Portland. The second regional cook-off went to Team Knox Rocks!, a combined duo from Five-Town CSD/MSAD 28 and RSU 13. The Big Kahunas from RSU 38 came in second and Team Fantastic Foodies from Lewiston came in third.

Judges tasted meals presented in boat-like shapes including tuna salad schooners, which were inspired by a school reading called “Nicholas.” An “Unbeetable Bana-Berry Smoothie” consisting of various berries, bananas and local beets created a meal of vibrant color. Another meal consisted of asparagus, red bell pepper and fresh mozzarella on toast which was designed to introduce new foods to Somali students. This competition was more than just about food; it was about accommodating meals to their student populations.

For the cooks and chefs the challenge was working in an unfamiliar kitchen, that of the local Career and Technical Education Centers and not being used to cooking in such narrow time constraints.

The two winning teams will “cook-off” on May 17 at the Kennebec Valley Community College culinary arts facility following the same rules from the regional competition; preparing two meals within a specific time frame using at least three ingredients that are grown, raised, caught, or manufactured in the State of Maine and meet National School Breakfast and Lunch Program requirements.

Local ingredients used in the competition went beyond just fruits and vegetables. Some of the foods used in the regional cook-offs consisted of farm fresh eggs, fresh herbs, corn frozen from last year’s harvest, local ground beef and Maine maple syrup.

A panel of judges, consisting of a Kennebec Valley Community College culinary arts student, a school nutrition director and professional chef, will score the dishes based on presentation, taste, creativity, and feasibility to be used in a school breakfast or lunch program, as well as food safety and time management.

All recipes from the regional and final competitions will be shared in a Maine farm to school cook-off recipe book.

Members of the media captured the activity at both competitions:

For more information on Maine’s Local Foods to Local Schools program, visit www.maine.gov/doe/nutrition/programs/localfoods/.