My co-worker, Aurora, coordinates Get HYPE Philly! for the Free Library. We’ve worked great together since I started in January, so I jumped right at the chance to work with her on the annual Teen Battle Chef competition.
I just graduated from the culinary program at Swenson Arts and Technology High School. I am the kitchen manager for the Culinary Literacy Center (CLC) at Parkway Central Library and I work the line at an exclusive athletic club downtown. Naturally, I navigated over to recipe development and food prep planning with Aurora. With her experience with planning and coordinating events, we gathered our team. Once we finished brainstorming, we went met with staff from the Kitchen Table at JEVS. With a warm welcome, I got to meet the JEVS instructors who would be leading the other team of teens. The meeting was very inclusive, taking ideas from both sides of the board.
With the meeting’s conclusion, it was settled that both teams would be making an Indian dish for the appetizer, Caribbean for the entree, and a collaborative dessert for the crowd that would not be judged. I suggested Indian cuisine because I wanted a dish that both teams were unfamiliar with. Our competitor suggested Caribbean cuisine because it was something she was not familiar with and was interested in cooking.
Over the next three weeks we all kept in touch via informative emails because this was more than a competition—it was a chance for growth in teamwork, culinary skills, and public speaking. From the start, it was clear that declaring a victor was not the main objective of the competition. The main objective was to help young adults get a few steps closer to adulthood. This objective was the focus from the start of my very first meeting with my team to our very first cooking demo.
My teammates, Kydirrah Mitchell, Monae Wilson, Raiquan Mullen, and Tykira Brown, were a great mixture of seriousness and fun. In my eighteen years of life, I have never had the pleasure of being surrounded by people with so much grit and determination. We all had multiple stressful things going on in our lives, plus the looming competition, but we gave it our all every day. No one complained. Even when we had to use the four burner stove in the staff kitchen because the CLC’s kitchen was occupied, we worked through it all.
When competition day rolled around, the atmosphere was friendly, but tense. Both teams took their part in making the desserts and centerpieces. I was two cooks short for the first three hours because my teammates had professional development. You could smell the stress in the air as my team walked out of lunch early to get back to cooking. I was probably the most stressed because I was the team captain and I didn’t want to let them down. With the time ticking down at lightning speed, I gathered my team and split them up by task, making sure they understood that we needed to be as efficient as possible if we were going to pull this off. With the piercing look of focus in their eyes, I had no doubt that we would complete the task at hand. We did it without skipping a beat. Moving as one, we made sweet and spicy Caribbean Chicken with Peach Chutney for the entrée and Veggie Momos for the appetizer, solidifing our victory.
In every contest, whether it be culinary-based or not, I have never faced a team full of such professional and kind hearted individuals. Both teams received $25 gift cards, while the winning team was also awarded blue ribbons. This was followed by pictures and the exchange of business cards from the panel of renowned Philadelphia Chefs, Kenneth Bush and Jezabel Careaga.
Although the competition was not completely smooth (there was some confusion with timing and setup that led to a pretty stressful day), I can’t complain. Any chef or individual with any experience in the kitchen knows that no matter how much you plan and prepare, something will go wrong. But hey, what's a good story without conflict? We gave the audience a show to remember—I know I’ll never forget!
Teens, Join Us!
Get HYPE Philly!'s free culinary literacy programs happen from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at several neighborhood library locations. We encourage anyone ages 12 to 18-years-old to come check it out! Download our Get HYPE Philly! Programs Calendar or browse for our events online.