Four SunRidge Middle students are on their way to Tampa on Saturday to compete in the Gridiron Cooking Challenge.
The four girls live in the same neighborhood and have been friends since prekindergarten. The SunRidge Middle School students also could be called award-winning junior chefs if their Cheesy Potato Tornadoes are deemed the top dish in the upcoming Gridiron Cooking Challenge.
The Dairy Council of Florida’s fourth annual student challenge takes place Saturday, May 13, at One Buccaneer Place, in Tampa. Eighth-grader Natalie Gordon and sixth-graders Caroline Gordon, Olivia Lenzen and Kayla Benton saw the announcement for the competition and wanted to enter because they love cooking. They asked their principal, Patricia Bowen-Painter, if she would approve their entry, which had to be a healthy, original recipe featuring dairy ingredients, and she was all for it.
They will be competing against teams from Citrus, Seminole and Polk counties. The teams will have 60 minutes to prepare their dishes and present them to judges. The winner will receive a $2,500 prize pack for the school, four iPads and other prizes.
Accompanying the girls to the competition will be their practice coach, Lauren Gordon, who is also Natalie and Caroline’s mother; as well as Curtricia Fields, the school’s cafeteria manager and program adviser for the Gridiron Challenge.
Fields has been helping the girls with their food presentation, fine-tuning the ingredients and how it is served on the plate.
Caroline, Kayla, Olivia and Natalie have practiced making their dish several Sundays in a row, producing about 20 pounds of Cheesy Potato Tornadoes to perfect the preparation. They will have 60 minutes to make their dish during the competition. During their most recent practice, they finished with 12 minutes to spare.
The team has practiced on a smaller scale on Thursdays.
“They started off strong, and then we hit a roadblock and made some changes,” Gordon said. “But we got back on track. We don’t mind taste-testing it, either.”
Kayla, who provides the potato spiralizer, said her sister loves the dish and has eaten quite a bit of it lately. Caroline thought of the catchy name.
This wasn’t their first attempt at the contest. They made up other recipes, but those didn’t work.
“We had to use dairy, so we were trying all kinds of things with dairy,” Natalie said.
“We tried cheese-flavored yogurt, and it was disgusting,” Olivia said.
One special ingredient, gluten-free flour, makes the dish appealing to a broader crowd.
“Our one friend, Emma, can’t have gluten, but she can eat this,” Kayla said.
The girls are looking forward to their trip to Tampa on Saturday and are convinced they will bring home the trophy.
Contact Amy Quesinberry at [email protected].