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Murray Journal

Festive Farewell For Annual Riverview Junior High Dutch Oven

Jun 12, 2015 12:56PM ● By Julie Slama

Bethany Haskell and Brynn Gale served everything cheese-related at their booth during the 25th and final annual Dutch Oven Cook-off this May at Riverview Junior High. Photo courtesy of Julie Slama

All good things must come to an end, so the saying goes ... 

On May 8, Riverview Junior High students, alumni, staff, faculty and the community celebrated 25 years of the school’s Dutch Oven Cook-off with scents of chicken, ribs, pulled pork sandwiches, garlic potatoes, rice, cheese rolls, fruit cobblers and minty fudge chocolate cake wafting through the air before saying good-bye to the tradition.

Family and consumer science teacher Janet Wayman, who is a past world champion of the International Dutch Oven Society’s annual cook-off, originated the school cook-off with 18 pairs of ninth-grade students so they could learn how to cook a main dish. This year, more than 50 pairs, supported by their families and community, made this last year a beloved community event.

“This is a tradition that students come back to say it’s one of their favorite things they did and loved,” Wayman said. “It has been so fun even though it is so much work. Next year, I’ll be working part-time in the high school, so this was a great year for the last one. I have a lot of great memories from the Dutch oven cook-offs.”

Although hundreds of people from the community come to sample the students’ cooking and see the original themes students create for their menu and booth, Wayman said the planning begins each year in the fall, building upon what she created years ago and fine-tuning the event.

“The event actually began in 1989 with eight teams in my foods class. I thought it would be a good idea for them to see what they could do in cooking a main dish,” she said. 

After skipping a year, she kicked it off in 1991 for the entire ninth grade.

“I never ever though it would get this big and become a popular community event,” she said.

Eighteen years ago, applied technology and careers teacher Amy Roberds joined Wayman in organizing the event.
Hannah Conley and Hannah Zollinger cooked chicken in a biscuit and country potatoes during the 25th and final annual Dutch Oven Cook-off this year at Riverview Junior High. Photo courtesy of Julie Slama

 “I’ve gotten to see different recipes that people do in their Dutch ovens that they may not even do in their regular oven, like a strawberry coconut cake or pina colada cake,” Roberds said, adding that she has used some of the students’ recipes when she and her family cook in a Dutch oven.

 Through the years, the cook-off has evolved; now students learn food safety rules and starting in 2007, they had to follow health department regulations. The school then had to get a site license, which allowed all the students to cook.

Wayman said the learning curve was steep, but the students adapted quickly. 

“The students had to learn and practice some new techniques required by the Health Department, so that year’s competition was a new learning opportunity,” she said. 

The students begin by finding a partner and then plan their meals, prepare their food in the school’s kitchen two nights before the event, plan a budget with their partner and families, and display good showmanship. Students also had their recipes printed in the school’s annual cookbook that was sold at the event.

However, the students still say it’s all great fun.

Ninth graders Bethany Haskell and Brynn Gale created the “Mousetrap Café,” and sporting mouse ears, they served a menu full of cheese dishes.

“We decided that it would be fun to fit it all to a cheese theme, so we made macaroni and cheese, devil’s tooth cheesecake and cheese onion rolls,” Bethany said. “We had to learn how to cook them all at once without an adult helping.”

Brynn’s grandmother contributed the mouse ears to the booth.

“I really love the cheese rolls, so that got us started,” Brynn said. “And we can tell cheesy jokes to go along with our theme and the fun of all this.” 

At the competition, volunteers helped with the dishwashing stations, charcoal and other items to support students. Students had to set up their own canopies and tables in addition to wearing costumes and preparing food. Custodians, teachers and Principal Jim Bouwman pitched in.

“Teachers and parents help with the supervision of the event, and without their support, it would not be an event. Many students who have competed in previous years come back to support those who are cooking. I have many students tell me this is the best extracurricular event they have done and even though it is a lot of work, they learned a lot,” Wayman said.

Bouwman, who first attended the 12th annual event, said his first thought was disbelief.

“I thought it was insane that ninth graders be allowed to run around with charcoal,” he said. “However, it is a very controlled and organized process and we haven’t had one case where we’ve had any real injuries. There are parents rallying around, second generations now, and more and more families gather to support these kids. I’m sad to see it go, even if it adds a little chaos for a day, because it is such a positive community event that involves students to businesses.”

Judges volunteer from local businesses and Dutch oven competitions; many donate items and awards for the event. 

“Many of these judges are great with the students and ask them questions about what they have done, learned and would do differently. We’ve had judges help us from the very start, for all 25 years,” Wayman said. 

Flavors from all over the globe were tasted, first by judges, then by students and community members who come faithfully to support the school’s event. Wayman makes sure the judges taste a variety of the students’ meals.

“It’s fun to hear the compliments from the judges. It really puts a smile on students’ faces when they hear, ‘Wow, this is beautiful and I haven’t seen it at a world competition’,” Roberds said.

The prizes, including Dutch ovens, gloves and lid lifters, were supplied from Camp Chef, Cabela’s, IKEA and Sportsman’s Warehouse. Other area business leaders donated cookbooks, meal certificates and cash cards. The school also has provided trophies for the top teams, Wayman said.

This year, the best overall Dutch oven winners were Seth Ellis and Rhett Reger, who cooked braciole with prosciutto, red spaghetti sauce, lemon pasta, focaccia bread and Italian almond cake.

“They did a phenomenal job and their spaghetti sauce was amazing,” Wayman said.

The first place Dutch oven winners were Issac Walker and Stewart McKenna, who cooked pot stickers, spicy chicken stir fry over noodles and crab and tofu dumplings.

“They were very detailed and had excellent flavor,” Wayman said.

Emily Lind and Rylee Richart earned second place, and Shae Harmon and Jessica Walker finished third.

The best dessert went to Carter Benson and Reggie Lee for their fried pineapple rings, and the best costume was awarded to pirates Braedy Dykes and Caleb Black.

Since it was the last year of the cook-off, Wayman opened the contest to all students, breaking the tradition of it being a ninth-grade event.

That opened the door to Team Hannah, or Hannah Conley and her best friend Hannah Zollinger, both seventh graders who created Hannahs’ Home Cookin’. The two were dressed in jeans, wearing cowboy hats over their braided hair and bandannas around their necks.

“We made chicken in a biscuit, country potatoes, which sound much happier than funeral potatoes, homemade ice cream and Hannah’s grandma’s cherry crisp,” Hannah Zollinger said.

“It took us four times practicing to get the ice cream right,” Hannah Conley said, saying that one time it didn’t set, and another time salt leaked into the Ziploc bag they were preparing it in.

“The last time, the Ziploc broke and it exploded all over, but we still had fun and were laughing,” Hannah Zollinger added.

Those memories are the ones that will last with students, Wayman said, but it also opened a learning opportunity.

“I suggested they talk to former students, which they did, and they learned some tricks, but what all students learn — that it takes practice,” she said.

Bouwman said that what he will miss is the opportunities it grants all students.

“One of the things I’ll miss is it allows any student to be involved, from the kid in the office to the one who earns a 4.0. They’re out there, working together, side by side, practicing cooperation, planning, teamwork — all those life skills, but also learning the skill of cooking in a Dutch oven. It is one of the funnest times at school and sometimes that social aspect is lost in all our instructional time. It certainly will be something we’ll remember more than a certain day in math or English, and it’s an event that we’ve done together in our community,” he said.