BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – On April 2, 2022, Joey Jacques of Bellows Falls Union High School competed in the Junior Iron Chef VT competition and took home the “Mise en Place” award, cooking by himself. His winning dish was Portobello Katsu over a Sweet Potato Curry and Coconut Rice.
Jr. Iron Chef VT is a statewide cooking competition for middle and high school students. Teams are invited to create healthy vegetarian dishes using seasonal ingredients and show off skills formed in after-school clubs at their local schools. The program was started in 2008 and has grown extremely popular, with over 5,000 students participating over the years.
Due to a winter storm, the March competition date was postponed. Because of rescheduling, Jacques’s teammate Kevin Patterson could not compete, so Joey Jacques had to cook solo, a rarity at Jr. Iron Chef, where teams are usually three or more students.
However, cooking solo did not damper the Jacques abilities. In fact, Jacques was able to win one of the three awards up for grabs at the competition.
Jacques put quite a bit of preparation into the event. He and Patterson met eight times with their coach Jake Gallogly, the Nutrition Assistant at BFUHS. Both students had significant experience cooking with their families at home, but both also mentioned the techniques they had learned under Gallogly’s guidance. Jacques said, “I one hundred percent learned new techniques and vocabulary here. Julienne, mince, mise en place. Learning how to do things correctly is a big thing here”.
Coach Gallogly remarked, “Watching Joey cook was pretty awesome. I don’t know if he noticed or not, but all of the judges and many of the coaches kept coming up to me and asking if he was really competing alone. They were really impressed.”
As such, Gallogly wasn’t completely surprised when they announced Jacques’ name as the winner. But the extra reward came when the captain of the judges told Gallogly, “His dish was by far the best,” and that they’d pay for it in a restaurant.
Jr. Iron Chef helps build confidence in students and offers them a unique opportunity. Gallogly reflected, “Jr. Iron Chef is a great program. All three times that I have had the opportunity to coach a team, I feel that the kids walked away with more confidence in the kitchen. Cooking aside, I think some of the students that participate in the program aren’t always involved in competitive sports, so showing up to the expo center with all the energy and the big crowd of people there has to be exciting. Everyone needs a few butterflies in their stomach once in a while!”