Twelve young Fort Polk chefs, ranging in age from 12 to 14, put on their chef hats and aprons and headed to the kitchen to participate in Iron Chef Junior.

Twelve young Fort Polk chefs, ranging in age from 12 to 14, put on their chef hats and aprons and headed to the kitchen to participate in Iron Chef Junior, a youth cooking competition hosted by Child and Youth Services June 19-23 in the culinary arts classroom of the Fort Polk Education Center.

The competition kicked off with an introduction to the kitchen, then moved on to one round of the competition each day: Appetizer, entrée and dessert. The competition concluded with the participants serving as sous chefs to Chef Charles Johnson, Warrior Community Center business manager, who functioned as a mentor for the kids throughout the competition.

“This is a skill-building exercise, showcasing children with culinary talent and giving them an opportunity to show what they know,” Johnson said. “I am truly amazed. I see some really talented young men and women.”

Loretta McGowan, CYS workforce preparation specialist, also served as a mentor and said she was impressed with the culinary performance of the kids.

“It’s amazing how they start with nothing and create something. The sincere and genuine desire they have to do this is amazing,” McGowan said. “They’re given their ingredients and just blossom from there.”

Participants competed in four teams of three chefs: Red team, blue team, green team and yellow team.

Red team member Akoni’ani Williams, 12, said her favorite part of the competition was working with her teammates.

“I’ve learned that when you work as a team, you can actually make (things) work,” she said.

Williams said she wanted to compete in Iron Chef Junior because of her love of food.

“I like cooking and eating,” Williams said. “Cooking is about what you do with the ingredients and how you do it.”

 Markleen Moussignac, 15, of the green team, also liked the focus on teamwork throughout the competition.

“I liked working as a team because we’re all trying to figure out what we’re doing, so it’s good to have somebody else helping you along the way,” she said.

Moussignac said she chose to compete to see how far she could get in her culinary journey.

“It’s a fun experience getting to cook and work with other people,” Moussignac said. “I like getting to experience all the tastes and smells and seeing what I can make.”

Christian Thomas, 14, of the yellow team recently moved to Fort Polk with his Family and said he wanted to compete so he could learn more about cooking.

“Most of the stuff we went over I’ve known how to do, but it’s interesting seeing how everybody else does it,” Thomas said.

He said he had fun working in the kitchen with his teammates.

“I like preparing food and watching how it comes out,” Thomas said. “It was fun to work as a team and put it all together.”

 Marquis Moss, 12, of the blue team said his passion for the culinary arts stems from his home life.

“I’ve always had a thing for cooking. I watch ‘Iron Chef’ and ‘Chopped’ with my mom,” Moss said. “I always cook at home and make breakfast sometimes.”

Moss said he has learned a lot from the experience and met new people along the way.

 “I joined Iron Chef Junior to get better cooking skills and make friends,” he said. “It’s been a fun challenge.”

The dishes teams presented were judged based on U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition guideline requirements, cost per serving for the complete meal, visual appearance and taste, as well as the organization, hygiene and food safety of the teams.

Sgt. First Class Vicente Benites, enlisted aide for the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk headquarters, served as a judge for the competition and said he was looking at “how the kids use their imagination.”

“It’s not every day that you see kids enjoy cooking,” Benites said. “It’s great to see them passionate about cooking at such a young age. The fact that they’re willing to learn is amazing.”

The yellow team consisting of Thomas, De’la Richardson, 12, and Garion Madden, 13, won the appetizer and entrée rounds with their crab sandwich appetizer and pork tenderloin with red potatoes and broccoli dish.

The blue team consisting of Moss, Adrian Williams, 12, and Michelle Cimenton, 13, won the dessert round with their parfait dish.

Dishes of the winning teams will be served at Mulligan’s July 11 at 11 a.m. and featured on the restaurant’s menu every Tuesday until next year’s competition. They will also be featured on the CYS menu for its childcare facilities. 

Johnson said the kids learned a lot from the experience and, most importantly, they enjoyed it.

“They realized the cooking is not that hard,” Johnson said. “They learned not to be afraid to try to experiment (with cooking) and have fun in the process.”