A team of children jumped and shouted as they celebrated a victory at the Miami Dolphins training facility, but instead of playing football or scoring touchdowns they were filling tortillas with fruit and cutting up avocados.
The winning team of young cooks from Everglades Elementary of Weston was one of four teams that participated in the Dairy Council of Florida’s third annual Gridiron Challenge Saturday at the training facility, 7500 SW 30th St. in Davie.
Sixteen small cooks with big chef’s hats fed four judges and other friends and families that gathered to watch the competition. The other schools were Rock Solid Christian Academy of Okeechobee, Gove Elementary of West Palm Beach and Nova Dwight D. Eisenhower Elementary of Davie.
The Dairy Council partners with Florida Dairy Farmers, Publix and the NFL to work with the kids in their schools and encourage them to eat healthy, through the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, and to lead healthy lifestyles by teaching them to prepare food themselves.
“One of the things that’s fallen by the wayside is kids getting in the kitchen,” said Vanessa Hodak, vice president of school health and wellness for the Dairy Council. “It’s all about the kids playing with their food and it’s all student led.”
The various teams came up with their own recipes and had an hour to prepare the meals for the judges. The dishes included mini fruit tacos, a breakfast boat complete with a sweet potato and sliced bananas, fruit-and-waffle kabobs, and the winning dish, a cheesy polenta with southwestern Ragu. The dishes all included some kind of dairy product.
Another informal judge at the event was Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake, who greeted all the groups and eventually bestowed the medals on the teams. Wake said that he appreciated the chance to try the kids’ inventive dishes and that while he’s not quite a chef himself he admired the focus of the young cooks.
“I never had that opportunity, so to be able to start early and chase your dreams is a great thing,” Wake said. “Everybody wants to be a head chef or football player or CEO, but you have to believe in yourself and have the discipline.”
As the kids from Everglades Elementary stepped off stage they were welcomed with hugs from proud parents like Tunji Okunyade.
“I feel ecstatic. It’s a great opportunity for the children to have this experience and for the parents to be a part of it,” Okunyade said.
Chef Edgardo Llopiz, an executive chef at West Kendall Baptist Hospital and one of the judges, said he was impressed with the winning team’s presentation of their dish and with their teamwork while they cooked.
“It was restaurant quality and you could tell it was well thought out. They all broke down the different elements and worked together,” Llopiz said.
Beyond medals and meeting a star football player, the Everglades Elementary team received four iPad Minis, a $2,500 prize pack for their school and a Publix Aprons cooking class. The Dairy Council will also host Gridiron Challenges in partnership with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars next month.