2 high school chefs made unique dish in 2 hours during intense cooking competition

Bibb schools students show off culinary skills in GA chef competition

Rutland High School sophomores Keon Burnett and Abigail Hudgins competed in a Georgia student chef cooking competition at Helm's College. The two made Jamaican beef patties.
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Rutland High School sophomores Keon Burnett and Abigail Hudgins competed in a Georgia student chef cooking competition at Helm's College. The two made Jamaican beef patties.

Abigail Hudgins meticulously sliced a long thin bar of whole wheat dough into pieces, then rolled each one into a flat circle.

Keon Burnett then basted each of the light brown spheres with egg wash and scooped a spoon full of curried beef and vegetables into the center before folding them into a dumpling-like shape.

The aspiring chefs, both sophomores at Rutland High School, were among eight other teams from school districts across the state who competed in the third annual Farm to School Student Chef Competition at Helms College on Wednesday.

The curried Jamaican beef patties the Macon team entered were the brainchild of 16-year-old Burnett.

“I wanted to do something that had a lot of flavor and was unlike anything else,” Burnett told three chefs who judged the competition.

The students’ recipes must fit the National School Lunch Program’s nutrition requirements, meaning the meals must have reduced sodium and fat, zero grams of trans fat, a whole grain and at least two Georgia grown products.

Instead of butter, Hutchings and Burnett used butter buds, which have less cholesterol and fat than the real thing. The curry made up for the absence of salt. Whole wheat flour and Vidalia onions satisfied the requirement for Georgia grown ingredients.

After two hours of preparing, each team produced a display plate, bite-sized samples in plastic ramekins and three plates for the judges. Dishes were judged on taste, student appeal, presentation, and creativity.

Hudgins, who is taking a class on pastries at Hutchings College and Career Academy, told the judges she and Burnett conducted a taste test before the competition to get feedback from classmates.

“The most negative thing that was said was (about) the appearance,” 15-year-old Hudgins said. “To help that, we expanded the amount of time (the dough) was in the refrigerator. Some students also said they were resistant to taste it because they couldn’t recognize what it was.”

Vanessa Pabalan, who teaches family and consumer science at Rutland High School, had Burnett and Hudgins in her class for their freshman year.

“As a team, they’re both amazing together and I’m so proud of them,” Pabalan said.

The late Kent Sparks, who was Rutland High School’s principal before he died suddenly in December, encouraged Pabalan to push her students to submit a recipe for consideration. Other Bibb schools submitted recipes, but all of them contained cheese, “so we were the closest school to fit the Georgia school nutrition requirements,” Pabalan said.

Though the duo from Rutland did not place in the top three, Burnett said he valued learning “how to cook in a different setting.”

Putnam County High School won first place with its honey chipotle chicken tacos with mango salsa and cilantro lime crema. The Putnam team is eligible to compete in the Southeast Regional Junior Chef Competition at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky.

A duo from Maxwell High School of Technology in Gwinnett County placed second with a dish called “EnTHAIcing Swoodles of Noodles.”

The Newton College and Career Academy in Newton County placed third with its savory southwest chicken wraps with Greek yogurt cilantro dressing.

Other teams and dishes included: Etowah High School in Cherokee County, Tex-Mex quinoa bowls; Dublin High School, buffalo chicken wraps; Armuchee High School in Floyd County, zesty ranch chicken wraps; Johns Creek High School in Fulton County, chicken butternut squash pasta with broccoli; The Jackson County Comprehensive High School, lettuce wraps with yum yum sauce.

The competition, in its third year, is part of the state’s initiative called “Shake It Up.” Goals of the initiative are: tasty meals, friendly cafeterias, happy schools.