AMES, Iowa – Attention Iron Chef, Barefoot Contessa and other Food Network stars: Iowa 4-H is entering the culinary challenge arena. Iowa elementary, middle school and high school-age foodies can show their stuff in Cook This!, a new food and nutrition challenge for youth at the Iowa State Fair.
Over three days, 10 teams in each of the three age groups will compete in a multi-part challenge that tests their knowledge of food safety, produce, food preparation and presentation, and proper use of kitchen equipment, according to Katie Ruff, Cook This! coordinator for Iowa State University Extension 4-H Youth Development. In the final part of the challenge, the teams will test their cooking skills as they prepare a particular dish. Maybe green bean casserole, perhaps kumquat salad or who knows what they will create; the teams won’t find out what food they’ll have to prepare until the competition begins.
The high school youth also will be judged on their creativity, Ruff said. They’re allowed to use their own “secret ingredients” in their food preparation challenge.
The competition takes place Tuesday, Aug. 17, Wednesday, Aug. 18 and Thursday, Aug. 19 in the 4-H Exhibit Building on the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Ruff said.
Applications Due June 1
Applications for Cook This! are due June 1, Ruff continued. The competition is open to youth who are not 4-H members, but at least one member of each team must be enrolled in 4-H through the county ISU Extension office. Youth may apply in three-member teams or individually; individual applicants selected for the challenge will then be grouped into teams. Application information is available online at www.extension.iastate.edu/4h/statefair/cookthis. Teams and individuals selected for Cook This! will be announced July 1.
Volunteers who are interested in assisting with Cook This! planning, coordination or team mentoring may apply online at www.extension.iastate.edu/4h/statefair/cookthis.
‘Cook This!’ with Science
The popularity of recipe websites and television and online cooking shows makes it clear that people of all ages still like to play with their food. According to ISU Extension Nutrition Specialist Ruth Litchfield, a hands-on challenge like Cook This! helps kids get excited and engaged in learning about food. ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development wants to expand that food interest to include nutrition and health, as well as the science behind it.
Culinary science is a fast growing occupation, and the industry needs young people with food science knowledge and skills, Litchfield said. To meet the demand, Iowa State University recently added a culinary science major to the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. Ruff, the Cook This! coordinator, is a culinary science major.
“In culinary science, you might say food science meets food art,” Litchfield explained. Culinary science graduates often work in food product development, a career involving both food science knowledge as well as culinary creativity. They combine their food product development skills and entrepreneurial talents with scientific and technical knowledge.
A Partnership for Iowa Youth
Cook This! is a result of a partnership of ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development, the College of Human Sciences, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Iowa 4-H Foundation and the food industry.
“We see Cook This! as an opportunity to unite the food industry in Iowa with our youth,” said Judy Levings, assistant director for ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development. “We are currently exploring sponsorship opportunities for this event.”
The College of Human Sciences and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will provide $500 Iowa State scholarships to members of the winning senior team, Levings added.
About the Iowa 4-H Youth Development Program
4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization, serving more than 6 million young people across America with programs in leadership, citizenship, communication and life skills. One in five Iowa school-age youth participates in 4-H. In Iowa, 4-H Youth Development is headquartered at the Iowa State University campus in Ames. 4-H is supported by federal, state and county funding, private grants and donations, and fees. For more information about joining 4-H, contact your Iowa State University Extension county office at www.extension.iastate.edu/content/county-offices/ or visit www.extension.iastate.edu/4H.
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, 515-294-0775,