AUGUSTA — Judges for the Maine Farm to School Cook-off said Tuesday it was a tough decision to name a winner.

On one side, the mother-son team from Lewiston made cheesy enchiladas paired with fruit salad, and carrot and jícama slaw. The other mother-son duo from Skowhegan offered pan-seared chicken over carrot puree with chicken-flavored rice, vegetable salad, fruit salad with homemade dip and oatmeal-carrot cookies.

Each year, the Maine Department of Education’s school nutrition program invites teams from school districts across the state to create breakfast and lunch ideas made using at least three ingredients sourced from Maine. Similar to cooking shows on TV, participants have a limited amount of time to prepare their creations.

The two mother-son teams were a happy coincidence this year. The competition requires teams to be made up of one nutrition staff member and one student.

Judges had little else but praise for all the dishes they tasted during the annual cooking competition. Ultimately, however, Lewiston received the top prize by a small margin, its second in two years.

This year, they were required to include oats in the breakfast dish and carrots in the lunch option.


The purpose of the program, Child Nutrition Supervisor Stephanie Stambach said, is to showcase all of the wonderful meals being made in Maine schools and create a collection of scratch-cooked recipe ideas for districts across the state.

“We have two districts being represented, but across the state, this is truly what school lunch looks like,” she said.

“This is a great experience,” said Lewiston High School cook Alicia Smith, who was also part of the 2022 winning team. “I would love to see more kids involved with cooking because that is one life skill that they will have for the rest of their lives.

Alicia Smith of the Lewiston Schools team sprinkles fresh cut herbs over an enchilada on Tuesday during the Maine Department of Education Child Nutrition Program 2023 Farm to School Cook-off final competition in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

During the first round, teams are given 60 minutes to make breakfast and start initial preparation for lunch, not unlike a school day schedule. In round two, participants are pressed to finish their entrees in 30 minutes.

For breakfast, Alicia Smith and her son, Jesse, a freshman at Lewiston High School, created gluten-free sun butter muffins, scrambled eggs with cheese, and a strawberry-banana fruit medley. Judges were especially impressed by the muffins.

Judge Kamryn Dube, a Winthrop High School senior, thought the muffins were soft and moist. Judge Walter Beesley, a retired state nutrition director, said he thought they could easily be made in large quantities in school kitchens.


The team from Skowhegan, made up of Canaan Elementary School cook Gina Bailey and her son, Skowhegan Area High School senior Caleb Pratt, crafted picturesque oat and berry crepes with a strawberry-carrot smoothie on the side.

Bailey told judges that she and other members of Canaan’s nutrition staff often make smoothies for students, taking the time to write a variety of positive messages on the cups.

There’s “just a lot of heart and thought put into it,” Bailey said. “The big thing for me is just giving the kids positive messages.”

She told judges that she and her son were competing in honor of her mother, also a cook, who passed away last year.

Judges were impressed, to say the least.

Judge Heidi Parent, a chef at Capital Area Tech Center in Augusta, said she thought the meal was “awesome.” Beesley was confident kids would eat it.


“I want to go back to school,” Parent said as she considered the dish. The messages on the smoothie cups, she added, were also a sweet touch.

In the end, DOE staff presented Pratt with a scrapbook full of photos in celebration of his final competition. This was his sixth time competing with his mother in the Maine Farm to School Cook-off. He plans to join the Marines.

The local food component of the competition is especially important, Beesley said.

“Kids are smart, they want good food,” he said. “We have so much in Maine to offer.”

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