North Country Jr. Iron Chef returns

Does any else remember school cafeteria food actually tasting good? Does anyone remember when “mystery meat” was whispered around the table because no one could ascertain what food product was on the plate? Before I get a lot of hate mail, I’m not talking about the effort that went into cooking the food, but its quality. Cafeteria food has always been the running joke in teen movies and social media for years. But that is the past and not for my sweet cherubs. They are living during a time when they get creative meals made from local products. I know, ridiculous, right? Next thing will be that they are part of the menu decision making process.

Well, since no one truly thinks like a teen, the North Country Jr Iron Chef competition does just that. It asks students to develop and prepare tasty recipes using local produce that can easily be prepared in a school cafeteria. The goal is to create a conversation about school food issues and build hands-on experiences with healthy food.

This yearly competition is open to middle school and high school students from Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties. Based on the popular Iron Chef TV show, North Country Jr Iron Chef gathers teams of 3-5 students represented by a school, community organization, club, or other groups. Only 24 teams are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis along with a $50 non-refundable entry fee.

Each team is given a required, optional, and prohibited list of ingredients. Required ingredients include whole vegetables and at least two items from the USDA Commodity Foods list (such as canned and frozen beans and fruit). The prohibited list covers allergens such as all nuts, meats, fish, alcohol, and processed foods.

Don’t fret if you can’t send a team, the recipes for all previous competition are online. Since I don’t have to worry about the restrictions, I find the North Country Jr Iron Chef website to be a fun place to check out how to use my local produce in creative ways. Yes, I’m reaping the benefits of child labor and don’t even feel guilty about it.

To see all rules and regulations for the North Country Jr Iron Chef competition, go to www.ncjrironchef.org. Deadline for entry is Feb. 1 at 5 p.m.

Diane Chase is the author of the “Adirondack Family Activities” guidebook series, “Adirondack Family Time: Your Four-Season Guide to Over 300 Activities.” For more family-friendly activities go to www.adirondackfamilytime.com.