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Fulton County students earn bragging rights for their grilled cheese expertise

By for CAES News

When it comes to grilled cheese sandwiches, there are about as many variations as there are chefs: tangy sandwiches made of cheddar with hearty wheat bread and creamy versions made of smoked Gouda with crusty French bread.

The 15 school-aged children who competed at the inaugural Fulton Fresh Kids’ Cooking Competition left no sandwich concept unexplored as they competed in teams and flexed their grilled cheese expertise. 

Modeled after shows like “Chopped Junior” and hosted at the Ponce City Farmers Market, the cooking competition was a great chance for the students to learn about the culinary world, nutrition and the opportunities provided by University of Georgia Cooperative Extension in Fulton County and Georgia 4-H.

The children, all fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders, were randomly placed into teams of four and worked together to create a balanced meal out of grilled cheese ingredients, kale and a basket of other mandatory ingredients. 

Judges included chef Brian Carson of The Mercury, chef Daniel Peach of Botiwalla, and Daniel Mobley, market manager for Ponce City Farmers Market. They were impressed by the kids’ cooperation, cooking ability and creativity, but they had to name a winner.

The winning team made a kale salad to accompany their sandwich. The team included Parker Payne, 10, of Woodward Academy; Victoria Sweeney, 10, of Warren T. Jackson Elementary School; Isaiah Farrow, 10, of Georgia Connections Academy; and Nile Smith, 10, of Roswell North Elementary School. 

“Most of these kids had never met and were randomly placed on teams together, but their level of communication, teamwork and creativity was phenomenal,” said Kristen Sumpter, UGA Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agent for Fulton County and Fulton Fresh coordinator. “Even when we threw them curveballs like extra mandatory ingredients, they just kept cooking with as much excitement and creativity as they did when they opened their baskets. Lemons were being zested and kale was being massaged. It was like we were watching professional chefs create new dishes.”

Fulton Fresh, a long-running nutrition education program coordinated by UGA Extension in Fulton County, underwent a makeover this summer. Sumpter sharpened the program’s focus on nutritional education for young people by taking cooking and nutrition lessons into Atlanta schools this fall and hosting a number of food-related workshops for kids this summer. The program adopted the new tagline “Growing Communities One Plate at a Time.”

Sumpter has collaborated with Laurie Murrah-Hanson and Jeremy Cheney, UGA Extension Georgia 4-H agents in Fulton County, to coordinate a summer full of food, nutrition and gardening youth events this summer.

They hope that this summer’s events will help them to introduce families to the wide variety of opportunities that Georgia 4-H and UGA Extension offer.

“I have heard of 4-H but I was not sure of everything they did,” said Renee Ross, who was at the cooking competition watching her 10-year-old nephew cook. “I love this, and I love the farm-to-table concept, and I love that people from the farmers market are contributing fresh foods and that kids are using them …

“I think it’s a great way for kids who don’t have access to 4-H (in school) to be introduced to it or even learn more about the program.”

For updates on upcoming events, visit ugaextension.org/county-offices/fulton/fulton-fresh.html or search “UGA Extension Fulton County” on Facebook.

Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
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