In a normal year, the Iron Go!Chefs competition takes place before a live audience. The contestants are given their ingredients, and they have one hour to chop, mix, stir, sauté and bake their recipes for a collection of judges. The judges then evaluate the recipes – and the teams who created them – and award prizes.
This year, the pandemic prevented such a crowd from gathering, but it didn’t stop our competition from taking place. When schools moved to remote learning, our Go!Chefs program did as well. Instead of meeting at sites around New York City, instructors and students met over Zoom and worked on preparing recipes with ingredients that were available in their homes.
As restrictions loosened this year, we resumed in-person instruction at individual sites. The program puts an emphasis on helping children get comfortable with basic culinary skills, and on building up their confidences so that they can cook something healthy and delicious anytime they’re at home.
Instructors emphasize working with fresh ingredients, and primarily with fruits and vegetables. “We’re trying to give them an open mind,” said Geronimo Branagan, the Go!Chefs program manager. “They may not be preparing foods that they’ve grown up with or even seen before, but we want them to try it. We want them to be aware of how fresh food can be nutritious and delicious.”
Branagan, who started as a Bronx site instructor for Go!Chefs in 2016, had competed in Iron Go!Chefs with his teams twice, winning awards for creativity and teamwork. After having to cancel the 2020 competition, he got creative for this summer’s contest.
He asked the six teams to submit a video of themselves preparing their best recipes. Each video had to be under four minutes, and the recipes had to be vegetarian. Just for competing, the students receive gift bags with cookbooks and aprons and healthy snacks. And every team that submitted a video took home an award, from “Most Innovative” to “Best Presentation.”
“It takes a lot of time and effort and creativity to be a part of the competition,” Branagan said. “We want to reward them for challenging themselves to come up with something tasty and healthy.”
This year’s Grand Winner came from the Fourth Grade Super Chefs. Supervised by Ms. Emilis, fourth-graders Amanda, Giselle, Mason, and Cameron created their “soul empanadas” recipe. These inventive empanadas included not just the usual ingredients – tortillas, tomatoes, peppers, and cheese – but also peaches for a sweet and savory mix.
The youth diced the ingredients, mixed them together, filled and folded the empanadas, and baked them to a beautiful golden brown.
In addition to their gift bags, the winning team also received a catered lunch from a local vegan restaurant and juice shop.
For Branagan, the only downside of this year’s virtual competition was that he wasn’t able to taste-test the recipes. “I can’t wait to be back together again next year,” he said.
If you’d like to try out soul empanadas at home, here’s the recipe!
- 2 tomatoes
- 2 onions
- 1 can of corn
- 2 cups yellow cheddar cheese
- 1 can of peaches
- 1 pack of tortillas
- 2 lemons
- 1 bunch cilantro
- 1 jalapeno
- 1 can of black beans
- Wash all ingredients
- Open the peaches and rinse with the colander
- Repeat step two for corn and black beans
- Cut tomatoes, onions, and peaches
- Remove seeds and stem from jalapeno and chop
- Grate the cheese
- Remove stems from cilantro and chop
- Squeeze two lemons
- In one bowl, combine tomatoes, onions, corn, peaches, cilantro, jalapeno, black beans, lemon juice, and mix
- In another bowl, combine tomato, corn, onions, cheese and mix
- Take one flour disc and put ½ a spoon of your favorite filling on one side. Close it and fork-seal the edges
- Make as many empanadas as ingredients allow
- Put 4-5 in an air fryer at 365 degrees for 13 minutes