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Riverview Junior High cooks off Dutch oven style

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(Paul Fraughton | The Salt Lake Tribune) Fifty-four teams of students line the front of Riverview Jr. High tending their Dutch oven delicacies at the Riverview Jr. High School's ninth-grade Dutch oven cook-off. Friday, May 10, 2013

If you can’t handle the heat, stay away from the Dutch oven.

This year, Riverview Junior High completed another successful round of its annual Ninth Grade Dutch Oven Cook Off, a tradition that is certainly popular with taste buds.

“I have kids come back and say this was the most fun thing they’ve done,” said Janet Wayman, foods teacher and founder of the event.

Wayman has been teaching at Riverview Junior High for 28 years. Several years back, she decided it would be interesting for her students to cook a main dish using a Dutch oven and format it as a competition, thus, the cook off was born.

“The kids had a lot of fun learning different cooking techniques, time management,” Wayman said. “The community did not get involved until a little bit later, but it has steadily grown.”

In its first year, the cook off only featured eight teams, but the field has expanded since and fluctuated from year to year. Fifty-four teams lined up in front of the school on May 10 to compete in the 23rd annual event.

The Salt Lake County Health Department oversees the competition to make sure everyone is keeping regulations. All prepping and cooking are done on school ground. Judges are made up of business owners and experts in Dutch oven cooking.

“The judges look for good-tasting food, techniques that the kids have done, difficulty of the recipes and the pre-prep,” Wayman said.

This year, first place went to team Karli Nicholes and Gabby Benson, who cooked up polenta pie, tortellini and Big Kahuna cookies. Second place belonged to Makaleigh Rogers’ and Jorgia Gomez’s pulled pork, mac and cheese and monkey bread. Carson Chacon and Anthony Valdez earned third place for their chili verde and red enchilada casserole.

Rogers and Gomez said they picked their recipes based on what would make a complete meal and appeal to people’s appetite.

“It’s like the best time of the year,” Rogers said. “We put a lot of work into it, and so many teams made so much good food.”

The hardest part of cooking in a Dutch oven?

“Making sure the stuff inside doesn’t burn,” Rogers said.

The girls said the cook off is a school tradition they have always enjoyed in previous years as spectators.

“It smells good all day,” Gomez said. “There are families who come, and it’s a whole community event.”

The school provides charcoals, briquettes and tin foil shields, but the kids have to buy their own food and supply their own equipment. After judging, the teams can sell their food and keep the money to cover the costs of ingredients.

“It’s being responsible and learning how to cook,” said Kathy Roe, whose daughter Kienna competed. “They had to buy all of their stuff and learn how to run their own business.”

Roe said she wasn’t aware of the cook off before.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “It’s something I would come back for next year.”

Customers usually consist of hungry junior high and high school kids out for lunch, and recipes this year ranged from jambalaya to chimichangas and chicken cordon bleu.

“The creativity, the planning, some of these kids cook recipes that adults won’t even try,” Wayman said.

Winners received trophies and prizes such as gift certificates, Dutch ovens – of course – grills and other cooking implements. Sponsors included Granite Bakery, Camp Chef, Cabela’s, Chuck-a-Rama, IKEA and Sportsman’s Warehouse.

Although the cook off ended in one smoky, tasty, fun day, the students had to sign up and submit their recipes a couple of months in advance. A lot of planning and preparation went into it, but Wayman said it’s all worthwhile for the kids.

“Junior high kids get a negative rap, but they are very adventurous and have a lot of talents and a lot of skills,” she said. “This is a really positive aspect to kids this age.”

closeup@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sltribMid

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