A team from Angelina County 4-H known as The Meme Team placed third in the nation for its cooking skills at the National Food Challenge last week.
Sixteen-year-old Holden Boulware, 17-year-old Blake Minshew and 18-year-old Taylor Castillo competed in New Orleans against 4-H Club members from six different states in August and then competed at the Texas State Fair in Dallas last week against 4-H Clubs from across the nation.
As far as the team knows, they were the first team from Angelina County to advance to nationals in the Food Challenge and now the first to place. They said they had a feeling, but weren’t positive, they would place.
“You always have to go in ready to win,” Holden said.
“Ready to win but prepared to lose,” Taylor said.
The teams were given a minimal amount of required ingredients for their dish compared to other competitions — pasta and acorn squash. They chose to add chicken, mushrooms, half and half, Parmesan cheese, garlic and cilantro from the pantry to make their “Taste of Fall” dish.
“We called it a ‘Taste of Fall,’” Blake said. “It was grilled chicken with a side of sauteed acorn squash and a cream of mushroom bisque.”
“The mushroom bisque took up most of our time,” Taylor said. “We tried to do something different than all the rest of the teams. That was Holden’s idea.”
They were the last of the nine teams to go, so the pantry was lacking things like asparagus, a side that the winning team had. However, they noticed no one had touched the mushrooms, and that gave their dish a fall element.
“I think there’s some stuff we could have improved on, but overall I think it went pretty well,” Holden said.
The students also have to create a presentation on their dish including information about it and make sure the kitchen space is clean before time runs out. Each team member takes a portion of the presentation covering a different topic.
“I think it went great. We did our same old thing, but we just nailed it this time,” Blake said.
“It flowed pretty well,” Holden said. “There was some additional information that we picked up since the last competition regarding food safety.”
They were also able to throw in information like the additional vitamin that the mushrooms added to their dish over any other side and the importance of heating leftovers to 165 degrees.
Blake said he was nervous to be on stage again after being televised during the Great American Seafood Competition. That competition was judged by professional chefs, and the team said it was rewarding to hear their feedback.
“It was a little intimidating because our judges were actually professional chefs,” Holden said. “We actually got compliments from two of them. They gave us some tips and applauded us on some of the risks we had taken.”
They made a crab cake dish and chose not to saute the vegetables, a common practice in crab cakes to reduce the crunch factor.
“We threw it all in there, so when you ate it, you still had a bit of that crunch,” Taylor said. “But we also had some pecans with it to help with that crunch. So all of it together just blends.”
“The barbecue tartar sauce was another winner,” Blake said. “It was a mixture from scratch of barbecue and tartar sauce. It was great.”
The team placed in the top three at the Great American Seafood Competition, but they hope to return next year and win.
The team said they were glad to have reached these milestones, as they have been competing in the food challenge for many years.
“I would absolutely recommend doing it,” Taylor said. “This is one of the funnest things to do in 4-H. It’s not really like anything else.”
For more information about Angelina County 4-H, contact county extension agents Joel Redus or Ryan Merrel at the Angelina County Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Office at 632-8239 or follow the Angelina County 4-H Facebook page.