Chopping It Up: Horton Middle School students showcase culinary talent

By Randall Rigsbee

Pittsboro, NC – Cooking Matters for Teens, a program dedicated to empowering young minds with culinary skills and nutritional knowledge, concluded its latest installment with students from Horton Middle School this week, marking a resounding success. Organized by Communities in Schools Chatham County, the program brought together local community partners, including the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, to support students from Horton Middle School in their culinary exploration and personal growth.

Nine Horton Middle School 7th-graders learned many new culinary skills while enjoying the six-week Cooking Matters for Teens course created by Communities in Schools Chatham County.

Tailored for 7th-grade students, the six-week program immersed its young participants in the art of cooking and kitchen safety through weekly two-hour sessions. Under the guidance of adult supervisors, the students formed three teams – Team Sweet, Team Salty, and Team Spicy – and embarked on a journey where their creativity and new-found kitchen skills were put to the test.

Pittsboro Presbyterian Church generously provided the program’s venue, offering access to its spacious Family Life Center kitchen. Alongside other community partners including CORA, whose food donations supported the program, the collaborative effort ensured a nurturing environment where students could thrive and learn valuable new skills that may pave the way toward future careers as chefs, nutrition advocates, restaurant managers, food truck owners, bakers, pitmaster, and food scientists.

The six-week program concluded this week with a finale reminiscent of the popular Food Network cooking show “Chopped.” Forming three teams – Team Sweet, Team Salty, and Team Spicy – the student chefs faced the challenge of incorporating a basket of mystery ingredients – salmon, couscous, and asparagus – into their final dishes. Despite the pressure, the students rose to the occasion, showcasing their ingenuity and teamwork.

The results were judged by a three-person panel, including Veronica Henry, the veteran head chef at the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office’s Detention Center. With a rich culinary background cultivated from her childhood in Jamaica to her extensive experience as a culinary school graduate and professional chef, Veronica brought invaluable experience to the program. 

Veronia Henry samples the three dishes prepared by Teams Sweet, Salty, and Spicy

While Team Sweet was judged the winner of the final cook-off, Veronica said each team brought their A-game. “It was a hard decision,” Veronica said. “They all came up with really good dishes.”

Shirille Lee, General Youth Services Program Coordinator with Communities in Schools Chatham County, noted the program’s broader impact. “It’s not just about cooking; it’s about building positive relationships,” Shirille said.

Since its inception in 2017, the Cooking Matters for Teens program has aimed to ignite curiosity about cooking-related careers while imparting essential life skills. This year’s installment marked the program’s first entry since it was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sheriff’s Office is proud to support initiatives like Cooking Matters for Teens, which not only impart valuable cooking skills but also instill confidence, teamwork, and a passion for lifelong learning.