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Junior Chefs Cook Off

Hailey Chappell wasn’t exactly prepared to cook onstage again at the Kentucky State Fair. But just after her Owen County High School team won the 2014 Junior Chef championship cook-off, the students were asked to compete in a contest for professional chefs after a contestant didn’t show up.

With the “mystery” ingredients they were given, the students grilled a flat-iron steak, made a grape jelly/red wine sauce for it, and crumbled potato chips over the top. For their side dish, they served a fried potato salad made with potatoes, boiled eggs, corn, and a variety of bell and spicy peppers. Hailey, age 15, and her team won against the professionals, just like they had against their peers from around the state. (Check out the team’s photo and press release at, search for “Owen Junior Chef.”)

The Junior Chef competition is organized like a Sweet 16 basketball tournament, with contestants in the same district competing and moving on to the regional and state levels. Hailey learned a lot while preparing for the contest. “We had to work on all the skills,” she says, “like knife skills”—learning how to hold her fingers so she wouldn’t cut them while she sliced food. “At first it was a little tricky, but after a while it was easy,” she adds.

Hailey’s mom, Amy Chappell, is the school nutrition director for Owen County Schools. Amy credits her own grandmother, Lela Maude Hawkins, for the family’s cooking ability. “She is the one who is responsible for teaching us all how to cook,” says Amy. At 97, Amy’s grandmother still cooks Christmas Eve dinner with help from the family, and sends family members home with leftover turkey and her Turkey Noodle Tempter recipe.

Turkey Noodle Tempter
1 (6 1⁄2- to 8-oz pkg) wide egg noodles
1⁄2 C celery, thinly sliced
1⁄4 C chopped onion
2 Tbsp butter
1 (10 3⁄4 oz) can cream of chicken soup
1 soup can full of milk (about 1 C)
2 C cooked turkey
2 Tbsp diced pimentos

1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed
(about 1 C)
1⁄4 C (1⁄2 stick) melted butter

Heat oven to 350°. Cook egg noodles as directed on package and drain. In a skillet, on medium, cook celery and onion in butter until tender (do not brown). Remove from heat and add soup, milk, turkey, and pimentos. Combine noodles and turkey mixture in a 2-quart casserole dish and spread evenly. Mix cracker crumbs with melted butter and sprinkle over noodles. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until lightly browned. Serves 6.

Vegetarian Spinach and Chickpeas
Recipe by Sarah Fritschner

So good for you, so delicious, and so easy. Basically, you just want to make this dish as garlicky as you can stand it.

3 Tbsp olive oil
5 large cloves garlic
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp paprika
1⁄4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1 lb (or more) fresh baby spinach
20 oz (or so) canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1⁄2 C water
1⁄2 tsp salt

Heat olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Mince the garlic and add to the skillet, cooking on medium heat until it softens. Add cumin, paprika, and red pepper flakes and stir. Increase heat to medium-high and add spinach, a few handfuls at a time, stirring as you add. It will wilt quickly and become a fraction of its former self. Add drained chickpeas, water, and salt. Bring to a boil, simmer briefly, and taste for seasoning. Serves 4.

SARAH FRITSCHNER coordinates Louisville Farm to Table, a program bringing more Kentucky-grown food into local homes, restaurants, and institutions.

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