An Augusta County 4H team won at the state competition last month in the Senior Food Challenge.
The Spice Girls — also known as Moriah McCaskill, Jessica Layman, and Kylee and Ashlyn Miller — will compete at the national competition in Texas in October.
4H Adult Volunteer Coach Marie Rothwell said the team competed at Virginia Tech in the Virginia 4H State Congress.
But, before the state competition, the team practiced twice a month in the fall and by February, when they participated in the county competition, they began practicing every week.
“So I gave them a mysterious bag of ingredients, and I set the clock to 40 minutes,” said Rothwell, who was a 4H extension agent for Augusta County until December, of the team’s practice sessions.
Rothwell had coached the Miller sisters for three years, and Jessica, 14, and Moriah, 14, joined the team more than a year ago. District competition was in April, which further prepared the team for the state level.
During the practice sessions, however, Rothwell was able to give the team safety points and cooking tips. Her hands-on coaching enabled the team to prepare for success.
“It’s taken a lot of dedication and long-term dedication for them to participate in the 4H competitions,” Rothwell said.
In October 2016, Rothwell said she had a team win at nationals. In early October of this year, this team will compete at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas.
“This team has great teamwork and communication at the table. They work well together. They respect each other at the table.”
She added that the four members of the team are dedicated to each other as a team.
Working well as a team is crucial in competition, Rothwell said, because 20 of the 100 possible points are based on observation by the judges while the team is cooking.
Rothwell said the judges are looking at how members of the team communicate with each other and that they practice safe cooking methods.
“So, if they don’t communicate and they don’t work well together, it doesn’t look good to the judges,” Rothwell said.
Rothwell said she considers the food challenge important because of the life skills participants are learning, such as team work, problem solving, time management and creativity. Teaching life skills to teenagers is why she volunteers with 4H.
Although Ashlyn Miller, 17, was at first encouraged by her mother to join the team, Ashlyn is now planning to pursue a career in the culinary arts.
“Overtime [being on the 4H team], I’ve just really fallen in love with [cooking],” said Ashlyn, who will be a homeschooled senior in the fall.
After three years of cooking together and participating in regional competitions, Ashlyn said the team felt ready to compete at the state level.
After high school, Ashlyn hopes to participate in an apprenticeship program at the Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg, which will then help pay for her to attend J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond and earn an associate’s degree in the culinary arts.
Afterward, Ashlyn will be certified as a chef and ready for employment. She thinks she would like to be a sous-chef.
In the state competition, the four team members were given a bag of ingredients and 40 minutes to create a nutritious meal from the ingredients. Ashlyn said they also had a pantry with additional items they could include in their recipe.
The team had to decide how best to make a meal out of the ingredients they were given, and to consider the nutritional benefits of the meal they prepared.
During the 40 minutes, they also worked together to prepare a presentation about their meal of tilapia, pineapple and sweet potato.
Ashlyn said the most difficult part of the competition for her was that she would not have chosen the three ingredients the team was given. She would have preferred chicken, asparagus, capers and an assortment of produce items.
In the team’s presentation, Ashlyn explained how their meal fit into the Food and Drug Administration’s food plate, such as the number of vegetables recommended in a meal.
Ashlyn’s older sister, Kylee, explained the meal’s vitamins and how each vitamin helps the human body perform.
The other team mates explained how the meal was prepared, including safety practices, the importance of avoiding cross contamination while cooking, the temperatures necessary to cook the meal and the costs associated.
Ashlyn said her favorite recipe to cook is a salmon burger recipe that she created.
“And they’re absolutely incredible,” she said.
She also enjoys baking pies.
The food challenge with 4H is important, according to Ashlyn, because it teaches teens life skills so that when they go to college they will not have to heat up Ramen noodles in the microwave as a meal.
“We know how to cook, we know how to cook affordably, and we know good food,” Ashlyn said.
Kylee Miller, 19, will be a sophomore at Piedmont Virginia Community College in the fall and is pursuing an associate’s degree in Liberal Arts. Then she plans to transfer to James Madison University and pursue a master’s degree in speech pathology so that she can become a speech therapist.
“I really like watching the Food Network shows with my family,” said Kylee Miller of her interest in the Food Challenge. Once she joined the challenge, however, she said she came to enjoy the competition and team work.
“But the team work and the activity is what kept me hooked,” she said.
The Spice Girls have been a team for just over a year.
“I think the hardest part [of the competition] for me was the presentation piece,” Kylee Miller said. Her part of the presentation required a lot of memorization to list nutritional information for each ingredient, and how that nutrition helps the human body.
As for preparing for the national competition, she said the team will continue to practice together. She will work on her presentation skills, and she would also like to work on getting to know her team mates even more so that the Spice Girls can be “as efficient as possible” during competition.
Megan Miller, Kylee’s and Ashlyn’s mother, said the 4H Food Challenge “gives them a good foundation in food preparation,” and how to cook healthy meals.
The competition also requires that participants have knowledge of government standards for healthy meals.
“So it’s made them make healthy choices,” said Megan Miller.
Miller said that cooking is a real life skill all teenagers should learn.
“I’m just really proud of the team, and of their effort,” Miller said.
Miller said without the challenge, her daughters might not have had the opportunities to learn such life skills, such as speaking in front of a group of judges.
“The girls have worked hard participating in 4-H Food Challenge for 3 years,” said team member Moriah McCaskill’s mother Susan McCaskill, “and I am proud of their accomplishments so far. I am thrilled for them to have a chance to attend the national competition.”
Moriah has been homeschooled, but will start 9th grade this fall at The Covenant School in Charlottesville.
McCaskill added that the girls have learned planning, cooking, and speaking in front of a group.
“The skills they have learned will help them so much in life,” she said.
The Spice Girls welcome donations to help get them to Texas. Donations may be sent to Virginia Cooperative Extension, 13 Government Center Lane, P.O. Box 590, Verona, Va. 24482. Make a note that the donation is for the Augusta County Senior Food Challenge team.
The team is also looking for corporate sponsorships.