LITTLE ROCK — A team of Arkansas 4-H members celebrated National 4-H Week by competing in the National 4-H Food Challenge finals and returning home with a sixth-place win.
Adelene Westfall, Sarah Lamb, and Christian Trombley— competing as the “Seniors with Spatulas” — competed against 10 other teams from Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming at the competition, held Oct. 4 at the Texas State Fair in Dallas.
The Arkansas youth are members of the Howard County Teen Leader Club and longtime members of Arkansas 4-H. Westfall and Lamb, who attend Nashville High School, were part of the 2021 team that placed fifth at nationals last year. Trombley, a homeschooled student, joined the team this year. To qualify for the national competition, the teens won the Arkansas 4-H Food Challenge in August.
“I’m super proud of them,” said Howard County Extension Agent Jean Ince, who coached the team and accompanied them to the competition. “They have all been cooking for a long time and still they learned so much.”
Although they had hoped to win top honors, the trio felt good about their performance.
“Our dish was good, and we did a good presentation,” Lamb said.
“We knew so much more this year than last year,” Westfall added. “We felt really good going into their competition.”
The Food Challenge not only tests participants’ cooking skills, but also their knowledge about nutrition, health and food safety and their ability to effectively communicate as a team. During the competition, the teams had 40 minutes to prepare a dish using the main ingredient — which wasn’t unveiled until the start of the competition.
After plating their dish, teams had five minutes to present their dish to judges and discuss food preparation, safety concerns, serving size information, cost analysis and nutritional information. Judges considered appearance, quality, creativity, effective communication and teamwork when scoring.
For the past two months, the team has met weekly to practice their skills using different ingredients from the four groups: protein, grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables.
White beans were the star of the preliminary round. The Arkansas team created a soup using the canned beans, chicken broth, shredded chicken, cheese, chives, cumin and salt and garnished with tomato. Judges liked their soup well enough to advance the team to the final round where they were tasked with cooking with fresh mushrooms. The team created a Mediterranean-inspired dish using couscous, mushrooms, feta and vegetables.
“I felt confident coming out of second round because we had worked with couscous and mushrooms before,” Westfall said. “We had previously made a recipe with eggplant and couscous, and when we saw there was couscous available, we swapped the eggplant for mushrooms.”
Division of labor
The teens spent the past few months practicing both their culinary skills and how to work as a team. Each had a defined role. Lamb — who her teammates call the ‘boss lady’ — took the lead in the recipe development and decided the menu with team input.
“My goal is always to have a bright, colorful, good-looking dish,” she said.
Lamb frequently cooks for her family, competes in BBQ competitions and hopes to own a bakery one day.
Trombley — the team’s ‘wingman’ — functioned as the sous chef, chopping and mincing ingredients, prepping the work space and ensuring food safety.
Westfall, a 4-H Ambassador and member of the state Healthy Living team, is considered the team’s scribe. She meticulously recorded the ingredients, proportions, nutritional content, serving size and notes needed for the team’s presentation to judges.
Skills for a lifetime
Healthy living is one of tenets of the 4-H program, which offers programs in nutrition, fitness, substance abuse, safety and social and emotional wellness.
“We strive to equip young people with healthy living knowledge and skills to physically, emotionally, and socially prepare them to meet today’s challenges,” said Amanda Welch, a 4-H youth development associate for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. Welch coordinates the statewide 4-H Food Challenge.
Last year, Arkansas 4-H applied for and received a Healthy Habits grants from the National 4-H Council and Wal-Mart Foundation.
“Most of the grant money went to counties to use for healthy living programs,” Welch said. “Howard County used grant money to purchase cooking utensils and supplies required for the competition.”
The teens all said they enjoyed the experience. For Trombley, it was because of the “friendship and teamwork.” Lamb said she is more comfortable with public speaking because of the competition, and Westfall, who memorized nutritional value of foods for the competition, said that information will continue to help her.
“I’ve learned so much about our bodies and what they need to function that I never would’ve thought about before this challenge,” Westfall said. “It’s taught me a lot that I can use to improve my health and my family’s.”
4-H is the premier youth development program of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service. Programs are offered in every county in Arkansas. To learn more about 4-H, contact your local Cooperative Extension Service agent or visit www.uaex.uada.edu. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @AR_Extension.
About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
The Division of Agriculture is one of 20 entities within the University of Arkansas System. It has offices in all 75 counties in Arkansas and faculty on five system campuses.
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.