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Photos: Latonia Students, Local Chefs Create Own Version of "Chopped"

Students, teachers, and parents were treated to a slice of the Food Network Wednesday evening as four successful chefs were invited to participate in a version of Chopped at Latonia Elementary School.

This is the second year that Bob Runyan, a fifth grade social Studies teacher, has staged a version of the cut-throat cooking competition, and he says he is reaching people and daring them to try something new.

"I am trying to make the connection between the (community) garden and the career experience and eating healthy," Runyan said. "Everyone seemed to love the show last year, so I knew I wanted to do it again."

The goal of the competition is to create an easy to-do after-school snack that is healthy, fills up hungry tummies, and is something busy, working families can either make ahead or be able to allow the children to make when they are home.

Mavis Linnemann Clark is a chef who began training in Umbria, Italy, and when she came back to the states, she trained in Chicago in both French and Mexican techniques. Upon returning to Cincinnati, she started the Delish Dish, and Made by Mavis Artisan Jam. She is one of the most requested wedding caterers in the Greater Cincinnati area.

Linnemann-Clark decided on a Greek-style skewer. With a fifth-grade helper, Lauryssah Wood, she was able to show how to alternate the chunks of cheeses and vegetables to make the skewer, and then she demonstrated to the audience how to make a sauce from vinegars and spices that the skewers can be dipped in.

Will Smith has been the executive chef at numerous Cincinnati landmarks, such as Walt's Hitching Post, John Phillips, and Grandview Tavern. Smith's areas of expertise include southern, Asian, and casual American fare. Smith was actually in Bob Runyan's homeroom class in his senior year, and has kept in touch through the years since he graduated.

Smith picked edamame for his choice of an easy snack, and he paired the green pods with teriyaki and sweet Thai chili sauces as a dip. He and his helper, Devin Watkins-Blackwood, were very busy serving the edamame and dipping sauce.

"I wanted to show the kids that if they spend two dollars on a bag of edamame, and experiment on some sauces, they can have a very tasty snack that is good for them," Smith said.

Jason Louda has also worked at several Cincinnati restaurants, where he has won many awards. At the Metropole in Cincinnati, Louda's creations were nominated three years in a row which made the restaurant one of the top ten places to eat. Louda was also one of the original founders of the La Soup Bucket Brigade.

Louda went with more of a comfort food. In a crock pot he combined braised beef, gouda, onions, peppers, corn, and other savory ingredients to make taco bites, which he served over tortilla rounds. He also had a sauce that his fifth-grade helper, Carsan Hehman, was able to pipe onto the taco bites.

Justin Dean has prepared food from West Virginia to  Rhode Island. He has helped launch a dozen concept restaurants, and he is currently involved in the creation of his own unique-tasting vinegars. He likes to give food a second life before it goes to waste.

Dean chose pork and cheese quesadillas with fire roasted salsa, and avocado cream, with homemade cheese whiz. He kept his fifth-grade helper, Keyana Stanton-Simmons, busy with the application of the cheese whiz and avocado cream.

All the community members, parents, teachers, school board members, after-school classes, and students settled in one part of the auditorium, and when principal Joann James called a change, everyone rotated to another chef's station. When everyone had a chance to sample all the different foods, they all retreated to the back of the gym and, when given a green light, everyone came to sit in the station of the chef whose food they liked the best.

When the dust had cleared, Chef Jason Louda and his taco bites won the contest. However everyone went home with full stomachs, and the knowledge that they had fueled their bodies with healthy food. So even though Louda had the trophy, participants went home with ideas of something new to try on their families.

Bob Runyan also has his own business at Latonia Elementary. Latonia Elementary Herbmania and Urban Garden, found on Facebook, they took an old abandoned tennis court on the school's campus and started a garden where they grow tomatoes, beans, peppers, carrots, onions, herbs, and other plants. They have sold produce to Bard's Burgers and Chili, and flowers to the teachers in the school. Runyan has said they are thinking about selling vegetables to the public as a type of farmers market, and they hope to be able to set that up this year.

Students do a lot of the work in the garden, but they also have people who volunteer their time and effort to make sure the children are understanding the process of taking a seed and encouraging it to grow into a plant that bears fruit. No pesticides are used on the vegetables.  

Irene Hyatt used to work at Jackson's Florist, and she has been one of the steady volunteers at the garden.

Runyan said no other schools have inquired how to recreate what Latonia Elementary has, but since it is such a good idea, it will probably only be a matter of time.

Story & photos by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor
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