Produced by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Fresh From Florida Student Chef Cook-Off gives high school students from across the state the opportunity to showcase their cooking skills in an annual competition.
This year’s eligible applicants are Florida students in ninth through 12th grade in teams of two to four individuals. As part of their application, students must submit an original recipe that contains at least two fresh Florida fruits or vegetables as well as one approved U.S. Department of Agriculture commodity item.
In addition, applicants are required to submit a photo or video of their creation, and recipes must have clear directions, be prepared in under two hours, be replicable by school nutrition professionals, promote healthy eating habits, and meet National School Lunch Program meal pattern and nutrition standards. Each recipe is judged on taste, appearance, creativity, execution and a variety of other criteria.
Selected teams will compete at regional cook-offs for a chance to qualify for the finale event at the Taste of Florida Agriculture reception at the Florida Capitol. Along with having their meal served in school cafeterias, students on the winning team will receive a $1,000 Florida 529 Savings Plan and a day in the kitchen with celebrity chef, Art Smith.
In 2017, Gianna Rivera of Bloomingdale High School in Hillsborough County was the “Fresh From Florida” Student Chef Cook-Off champion. Due to a different set of rules, Rivera competed as an individual against four other regional finalists, and her original recipe – a citrus chicken taco with watermelon salsa – was declared the winner by judges including Chef Justin Timineri, Florida’s international culinary ambassador and state executive chef.
“Every dish was incredible, and I was very impressed with each contestant’s recipe,” Chef Justin says. “I’m excited for their generation because they seem to understand the importance of high-quality nutrition, and they’re passionate about cooking and using fresh ingredients. Each contestant did a phenomenal job, which made judging difficult, but I enjoyed the experience and look forward to participating again.”