When Parua Bay School pupils Holly Patterson and Madyson Picard won last year's Root to Tip cooking competition they left a lasting impression on the competition organisers.
The then 10-year-old Parua Bay School students won last year's competition using local produce and some of their families' recipes. And they wowed the judges so much, they have been invited to help judge this year's Root to Tip Northland regional competition along with a local chef.
The competition challenges students to create a two-course, plant-based meal from "root to tip", using seasonal produce sourced locally from family, community or school gardens, while leaving little or no waste.
At last year's big cook off Holly and Madyson impressed with their ability to work well together in the kitchen. Their dishes were prepared with next to no food wastage, and the judges gave almost perfect scores to their vege patch burger with ribbon fries, made from the peelings of the vegetables used in the burger, and a spiced apple delight dessert using the entire apple.
The duo merged family-favourite recipes with some clever waste minimisation tricks, adapting Madyson's grandmother's fried bread recipe for their burger buns, and an apple dessert recipe from Holly's great-grandmother.
The girls, who won the Northland event to get to the finals, are good friends and before entering had already spent time in the kitchen together baking.
Holly's mum, Deborah Patterson, said the fact they worked so well in the kitchen together helped them win last year's event, which was a high-pressure situation with judges talking to the contestants as they were preparing and cooking their dishes.
Patterson said the pair spent a lot of time in the kitchen together and separately which meant they were fluid when working in the kitchen under the pressure.
"They really enjoyed the day and had a great time. But they spent so much time in the kitchen beforehand, working on their dishes and improving them," she said.
She said that, since last year's win, Holly has become a lot more confident in cooking, cooking meals for the family, and also in life generally.
Competition head judge and chef Al Brown believes the competition taps into the creativity and leadership of school-aged Kiwis on the issues of seasonality and reducing food waste, while creating delicious, nutritious food.
"The competition delivers some much-needed creative inspiration as many of us grapple with how we can change the things we do to reduce our environmental footprint, from having gardens at home to using all of what we have," Brown said.
"Food waste is a big issue in many New Zealand households, and I think we could all learn a lesson or two from last year's finalists. They included ingredients most of us would consider 'food scraps' and served up some absolutely outstanding dishes. These kids are developing lifelong skills in the kitchen. Learning where food comes from and what season it's grown in will ultimately improve their health as they make better food choices - that's what Garden to Table is all about."
More than 400 Year 5 and 6 pupils entered last year's competition and organisers are expecting at least that many this year.
Regional heats will take place around the country in the first week of August, and the national final will be held on August 23 in Wellington where the Root to Tip competition winners will be announced.
The winning pupils will each receive a $1000 NoticeSaver account with Rabobank Online Savings, plus a one-year membership of the Garden to Table programme for their school and a range of other kitchen goodies.
Entry details can be found at www.roottotip.org.nz