Last week, primary school-aged chefs and gardeners took part in the Māra Kai "Master-Chef" Challenge, a Waikato Regional Council initiative run through the Enviroschool programme.
Environmental education facilitator Jennifer Scothern-King says the focus was on promoting environmentally sustainable practices for school students.
"It's so inspirational to see kids empowered by growing, harvesting and cooking healthy, delicious food. The standard was so high it was amazing," she says.
Teams consisting of two gardeners and two cooks from Waipahihi School and Tauhara Primary School were challenged to create a delicious meal from ingredients they had cultivated themselves.
Team Wapahihi School was Olliver Nicholson, Jayden Arderne, Harleigh Paletau and Emily Forrest and team Tauhara Primary School was Harlem Hallet-Dunster, Amara Leaf, Piper Quinn and Jessica Rakei.
Each team had 90 minutes to make a nutritious three-dish lunch then plate and present their dishes to the judges.
The final dish had to include at least five ingredients from each team's school vegetable garden, and they were also expected to discuss their dish and describe to judges how each ingredient was grown.
Guest judge was Coriander Lime Kitchen owner Katherine Froggatt-Ong who gave a demonstration on how to make carrot and celery sticks dipped into curried cannellini bean dip with tahini and sriracha. The healthy snack was promptly eaten by the competitors.
Jennifer says the children quickly picked up on Katherine's Bahasa Malaysia language tip for measuring ingredients "agak agak" meaning "no need to measure just use a drizzle or a pinch" of the ingredient.
Then it was the students' turn, and Jennifer says each team showed great mutual respect, consideration and care in sharing the kitchen space and knowing their tasks.
The dishes included gnocchi matched with a tomato and herb sauce, a spinach and silverbeet quiche, a green salad of spring onions, mint, chives and parsley, and beetroot feta and pear salad. Dessert was a fresh fruit smoothie, and a pear and apple crumble.
The students enjoyed the learning experience.
"The first time we made gnocchi I went home and made it myself for dinner," Harleigh says.
"It was challenging peeling the beetroot but I loved making the smoothie," Harlem says.
"I liked working with my team. It was fun, cutting the beetroot was hard when you got to the last bit of beetroot. My favourite dish was the feijoa and apple crumble," Piper says.
"I liked decorating the smoothie with crispy dried raspberries. My highlight was working in the school kitchen with another school," Olliver says.
"My favourite thing was working together. My favourite dish was the dessert, it was delicious," Amura says.
Enviroschools facilitator Alex Daniel helped Katherine to judge the dishes and Jennifer says the judges were amazed and delighted with the lunch produced.
"I am so honoured to be part of this very exciting journey. I hope this event creates a wave of interest from other schools," Katherine says.
The fresh produce was scored for choice, appearance, taste and the chefs were scored for organisation, recipe choice, nutritional value and presentation. Teams were also judged for knowledge about gardening and team spirit.
Waipahihi School won the challenge but Jennifer says the teams were very closely matched.
There were prizes for both teams, including gardening equipment and plants, gardening diaries, bookmarks, and a cookbook.
Jennifer says they hope to run another "Master-Chef" style challenge next year for schools in the Taupō District.