STURGIS — Eleven-year-old Grace Heeren takes out a cutting board, places a large red onion on it and proceeds to break down the onion into tiny pieces.
She wields the knife like a pro. She places her hand in a claw-like manner over the onion so as not to lose the tip of a finger in the process of slicing.
She adds the onion to a bowl that already contains frozen mango. To finish the salsa, she adds cilantro, avocado, lime, oil, and a little salt and pepper.
Around the kitchen at Sturgis Brown High School, other youngsters were in the beginning stages of creating their recipes for the annual Meade County 4-H Master Chef competition.
Among those is Grace’s sister, Lydia.
Lydia Heeren said she has been cooking for as long as she can remember.
The soft-spoken 12-year-old said she enjoys making desserts most.
“I like to make brownies and cookies,” she said.
Heeren’s recipe for Dreamy Chicken Lazone garnered her the title of Meade County 4-H Master Chef this year. She said she chose the recipe for the competition Wednesday because she liked it when her mom made it for a family supper.
“It was really yummy,” she said.
Heeren said the toughest part of the cooking process was making sure the chicken included in the recipe was cooked through.
“I cut it open with a knife to make sure it was done,” she said.
The chicken is first covered in a spice rub of chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. It was served over a bed of brown rice and covered in a sauce made with butter, chicken broth, and heavy cream.
The narrative accompanying the recipe states: “This sauce is the stuff dreams are made of …”
Dishes are judged on taste, healthy ingredients, and appearance of the serving such as attractiveness, color, and shapes. They also are judged on how appropriate the plate, bowl, or container is for the food prepared.
Other criteria include the difficulty of the recipe for the age of the entrant, organization, neatness, and ability to finish in time allotted.
Miles Voigt said entering the Meade County 4-H Master Chef competition is a way to challenge himself.
“Usually you don’t get to cook at home, unless you really want to,” he said. “It’s fun to try out new recipes.”
Grace Heeren said, like her sister, she loves cooking, mostly desserts. But on Wednesday she made a family favorite — quesadillas.
Youth were given a list of must-include ingredients for the Master Chef competition. Heeren’s included kielbasa, any type of beans, and something sweet.
This recipe was something Heeren formulated using whole-wheat tortillas, cheese, black beans, and the kielbasa sausage. She topped the quesadilla with the mango-avocado salsa.
Her cooking won’t stop with this week’s competition. She plans to bake bread and maybe cookies to enter into the Meade County Fair which begins July 27.
Local caterer Lori Jeffery Kirk judged the competition and said she was amazed at the level of cooking from the youngsters.
“It was very difficult to judge,” she said. “They all were so creative.”
In addition to the Heeren sisters and Voigt, other competitors included William Coshow, Presley Johnson, Weston Coshow, Levi McPherson, Jeslyn McPherson, Sage Graham, Lillian Heisinger, Abigail McDaniel, Emilie Reedy, Josie Reedy, Cashley King, Timothy McDaniel, Grace McDaniel, Bailey Urbaniak, Everett Urbaniak, JD Heeren, Lindsey Anderson, and Shailey Mahaffy.
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