Cooking champ2Fourth-grader Parker Star thought he was in trouble several weeks ago when Okatie Elementary School’s principal walked into his classroom along with his parents.

But the news was all good: Star had been named as one of 15 finalists in the Beaufort County School District’s 2020 Sodexo Future Chef Competition. And Star outdueled the other finalists Feb. 17 at the Beaufort-Jasper Academy for Career Excellence to earn the cooking championship with his made-from-scratch zucchini-and-sweet potato “Harvest Muffins.”

“I didn’t think I was going to win after this weekend,” said Star, explaining that his most recent test batch of muffins were left “super soggy” because he didn’t squeeze enough moisture out of the zucchini before completing his muffin mixture.

For his first-place finish, Star was awarded a prize basket of cookware, kitchen utensils, a cutting boards and a personalized Future Chef apron. He now has a chance to move on to the 2020 regional and national Future Chef competitions. More than 2,500 students from 253 school districts across the nation are competing in similar events this spring.

Beaufort County’s 15 finalists were chosen from aspiring young cooks from district elementary schools who submitted recipes in this year’s challenge, sponsored by Sodexo. The category was “Reimagining Your Favorite School Lunch.”

First runner-up was fifth-grader Macy Benson (Hilton Head Island Elementary) for her “Zucchini Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs.” Second runner-up was fourth-grader Nigel Poulin (Beaufort Elementary and second year as a finalist) for his “Loaded Vegan Nachos.”

All participants received gift bags including certificates, medals and personalized aprons. Second and third runner up received additional prizes.

“These students are so talented and energized,” said Sodexo Operations Manager Robert Edwards. “To see them showcase their creativity this way is really wonderful.”

Edwards said the company’s annual competition is particularly appropriate for Beaufort County because it’s a tourism-focused economy with many opportunities in the hospitality industry.

The other 2020 finalists were: Emma Bernhard (Grade 3), Broad River Elementary; Myrandia Cole (Grade 5), Beaufort Elementary; Byron Crosby (Grade 5), Beaufort Elementary; Kamaria Cunningham (Grade 5), Beaufort Elementary; Abigail Dublin (Grade 3), Hilton Head Island Elementary; Alaiya Flanders (Grade 5), Beaufort Elementary; Mia Jaquiss (Grade 4), Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts (third year as a finalist); Ava Keller (Grade 4), Coosa Elementary; Kadence McMillon (Grade 5), Beaufort Elementary; Charley Ocello (Grade 5), Hilton Head Island Elementary; Chyna Ramos (Grade 3), Hilton Head Island Elementary; and Savannah Senna (Grade 1), Coosa Elementary.

The finalists prepared their dishes before presenting and explaining them to a panel of six judges, who scored each dish on things like originality, taste, healthy aspects and kid-friendliness.