MILWAUKEE — Two junior chefs from Minnesota and Wisconsin are among the winners of a White House contest that challenged kids between the ages of 8 to 12 to create healthy lunchtime recipes.
Liam Kivirist, 11, of Browntown, Wis., and Kaitlyn Kirchner, 9, of Madelia, Minn., will join the other winners July 9 at a Kids' State Dinner at the White House. First lady Michelle Obama will host the event, which will include samples of some of the 54 winning recipes.
"It's pretty amazing," Kaitlyn told The Associated Press by telephone Sunday. "I never thought I would go to the White House."
Kaitlyn submitted a garden stir fry featuring vegetables she and her family grow in their garden, including carrots, broccoli, yellow summer squash, sugar snap peas and red bell peppers.
This is the second year the White House has sponsored the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. The rules are simple: Entries have to represent each of the food groups, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy foods. Fruits and vegetables have to comprise about half the plate.
Liam, whose parents own a bed-and-breakfast inn in southern Wisconsin, figured he'd rely on creativity with his entry. He noticed that last year's winning entries included pestos, noodle dishes and wraps — but no chili. So he and his mother collaborated on a chili that combined standard ingredients with a few unusual ones.
Liam started with garden-grown tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers. Then he added pumpkin for sweetness and quinoa for protein.
"I try to be unique in every project I do," said Liam, who is home-schooled. "I also thought of what I really like to eat."
To top it off, he simmers the chili in the family's 300-degree solar oven, which uses mirrors to focus the sun's rays. However, he added, the recipe works just as well a conventional stove.
All the winning recipes will be available for download starting in July at recipechallenge.epicurious.com.
Kaitlyn and Liam both said they've been cooking since they were little. Kaitlyn recalled helping her mother pick vegetables as a 3-year-old and then helping her cook. After a while Kaitlyn started experimenting with dishes of her own, depending on which vegetables were in season.
"Sometimes I'll make cream and asparagus, if we have asparagus," she said. "A lot of times we'll just switch different vegetables. If we have it in the garden, we'll put it in."
Liam has also been a budding chef since age 5, when he remembered his parents cooking breakfast for their B&B clients. He had his "cooking chair" to stand on so he could reach ingredients and help with the preparation.
He said he loves to experiment with different food combinations to produce creative meals.
"The food is all normal. It's what you do to it that makes it unique," he said. He added that his chili is mild because he didn't want spice to overpower the fresh taste.
The White House received more than 1,300 entries from around the country. Judges narrowed down the entries to two finalists from each state and U.S. territory. Chefs then prepared the 108 semifinalist recipes and a panel of judges selected the 54 finalists. Criteria included taste, healthiness, originality and affordability.
Kaitlyn limited her recipe to her favorite fresh home-grown vegetables. It can sound a little unusual listening to a 9-year-old talk about how much she loves to eat her vegetables, but her mother said it wasn't hard to help her children learn good eating habits.
"I think the key is to start them young," Lea Kirchner said. "When they're young, if they see you eating a sugar snap pea or a pea pod out of the garden, they want to try it."
Kaitlyn said it's hard to express how excited she is about getting to visit the White House. But she knows what she'll say to the first lady.
"I'll probably say, 'I really like you — because you always have kids help you in the kitchen and the garden,'" she said.