Student cook-off brings friendly competition and new menu items to Norwich public Schools

The winning dishes, including a peach chicken alfredo, will be served to students next week.
Student finalists
The team from Teachers Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School won the competition with their peach chicken alfredo dish. | Photos courtesy of Norwich Public Schools

Middle school students at Norwich Public Schools in Norwich, Connecticut competed in a friendly competition in recent weeks for the chance to have their recipes featured on the school lunch menu.

The idea for the district’s first Discovery Kitchen Cookoff competition came from Director of Dining Services Nizam Saad, who worked with school administrators to bring his idea to life.

“I approached the principals and asked them to select students who they thought would be a good fit,” says Saad.

The students were split up into four teams of two, so that each middle school in the district was represented by two teams. Before competing, Saad and the rest of the Chartwells K12 team who manages the foodservice at the district met with the students to go over kitchen safety and the competition rules.

The Discovery Kitchen Cookoff had two rounds. The first round was held at each of the middle schools and featured the two teams from those schools competing against each other. The two winners from round one were then invited to compete against each other in the finals.

In round one, the teams from each middle school had to adhere to a specific theme. The two teams from Teachers Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School had a breakfast theme, while the two teams from Kelly Steam Magnet Middle School had an Italian theme. For the first round, the students were able to prepare recipes that they selected ahead of time.

Many of the teams went with family recipes, Saad says, such as a Jamaican breakfast.

During the finals round, Saad selected a secret ingredient that the teams would have to use in their dishes. One of the teams had to use fresh peaches as their secret ingredient and the other team had to use fresh ginger.

Saad assembled a panel of judges from the district and community at-large, including the superintendent, a state representative and a principle.

“They were very impressed [with the students’ dishes],”says Saad.

Team presenting to the judges
Each of the teams presented their dishes to a panel of judges. 

In the end, the team from Teachers Memorial Global Studies Magnet Middle School won the competition with their peach chicken alfredo dish. That menu item, as well as the winning dishes from round one, will be served district-wide on school menus next week.

This was the first year that Saad hosted the competition and is already looking forward to bringing it back next year.

Each round of the competition was broadcast on TVs in each of the school cafeterias so students could watch during their lunch. As a result, many students came up to Saad afterwards asking about next year’s competition.

“There were a lot of kids that told us that they wanted to participate next year,” he says, adding that he looks forward to continuing to build relationships in the district and host more events like the cookoff in the future.



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