On Aug. 25, the Golden Library hosted its annual Teen Iron Chef competition with about 20 teens participating in two rounds of cooking.
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With a few minutes left on the clock, the young chefs were scrambling to finish their dishes, looking for last-minute ingredients and utensils. A strong mixture of aromas wafted through the Golden Library corridors, and one teenager remarked over the hustle and bustle, “Welcome to chaos.”
On Aug. 25, the Golden Library hosted its annual Teen Iron Chef competition with about 20 teens participating in two rounds of cooking. There were 13 entrants overall, as some competed as teams.
The teens had to include one of the three mystery ingredients — ube root, jumbo squid pieces and calcium powder — in each dish. The results ranged from soup, tacos and burritos to cupcakes, pancakes and fruit salads.
At the end of each round, two professional chefs and a teen volunteer judged the dishes on presentation, creativity, taste and mystery ingredient incorporation.
The professional chefs were impressed with the risks the competitors took, commending them for their creativity and hard work.
In the end, 17-year-old Cassie Valverde and 14-year-old Caycen Mead took first place and went home with the grand prize — their own cast-iron skillets.
Valverde was also on last year’s winning team, but wasn’t planning to do it again until a few days beforehand. She told Mead she’d compete if he was on her team.
The two friends made a squid-based stir fry for their first dish, and ube-flavored pancakes for their second. Overall, they said, it went better than expected, as the young chefs based their dishes on family favorites.
Despite that, though, the two said they don’t really like cooking and mostly do it just to eat. They do like winning, though, Valverde added.
The two were excited to see so many competitors this year, saying it’s more fun that way. They hoped to have similar numbers, if not more, for next year’s Teen Iron Chef.
Emily Due, the Golden Library’s teen librarian, said the library’s Teen Advisory Board has been planning the event for about two months. The biggest piece was collecting food items for the teens to use. Due bought about $200 worth of ingredients, and asked for donations through the library system and teen patrons.
Due and the TAB members present were grateful to have two professional chefs as judges, saying they gave great feedback and made the experience more meaningful.
Dylan Sabuco of Denver-based cooking school Sticky Fingers Cooking and John Wilson, executive chef at Miners Saloon and two other local restaurants, were encouraged to see the next generation of chefs getting their start.
“It’s good to see the kids cooking,” Wilson said. “It helps them connect with where their food comes from.”
Wilson was worried about the mystery ingredients initially, but he thought the teen chefs executed their dishes very well. He also noticed a collaborative environment during the event as the teens shared ingredients and insight with each other.
Sabuco got his start as a chef at a similar teen event, so being a Teen Iron Chef judge was a fun, full-circle moment, he said. He now teaches cooking classes at libraries around the Denver area, commenting, “They’re the greatest resource for kids to do something like this.”
The four-person team of Lucy Paisley, Maci Reh, Hadley Wilkins and Karina Day — all 12 or 13 years old — recommended young Goldenites try their hand at next year’s Teen Iron Chef as it’s a great time to try out their cooking skills and meet other teens.
Paisley and Wilkins knew each other beforehand, but otherwise the four teens hadn’t met until the competition. Still, they worked together to make a first-round ube cupcake with cheesecake frosting, and homemade salsa with calcium powder for a second-round nacho plate.
“It was a fun experience,” Paisley said. “Everyone should give it a try. You don’t even have to be great at cooking.”
For more information about upcoming teen events at the Golden Library, including the Sept. 8 Washington’s Spies Escape Room and the October teen art exhibit, visit jeffcolibrary.org/locations/gn.
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