The taste of victory

4-H cook-off features a variety of delectable dishes

REED CITY — A number of young chefs vied for greatness Saturday in Reed City using ingredients from animals they raised themselves.

A 4-H small-animal cook-off took place at Reed City Middle School featuring competitors who had produced their own meat, eggs and milk for the competition.

“We put this competition together so the small-animal kids would have something to do in the winter,” said Ronda Hemenway, leader of the 4-H Pegasus Club and event organizer. “Most of their stuff is in the summer. They have their chickens at home now, but they don’t have any competitions to participate in.”

Lisa Baldwin Ryan and her son, Tanner Ryan, 15, started their oven preheating in preparation for making baked Italian eggs – in addition to a soup entry – and took some time to discuss how they started cooking together.

“He’s been pretty much at my hip since birth,” Baldwin Ryan said. “I kept him in the kitchen because I was a firm believer that kids need to know the noises of the house and I was not going to quiet my house down. Even as a baby I would have him with me when I was baking or cooking, obviously away from the stove.”

Baldwin Ryan said the hardest part of the competition is stepping back and letting her son do the work.

“We’ve been planning for this competition since the last competition ended,” Ryan said.

“Throughout the year, we try different recipes,” Baldwin Ryan said. “I’m not usually the one who eats them, because he usually picks chickens or eggs, and I don’t like either.”

Ryan frequently works with broad themes when learning new recipes, Baldwin Ryan said. This year, he experimented with a number of enchilada-influenced dishes, which helped him choose to prepare a chicken enchilada soup for the competition.

“He wanted to stay on that same base path because he likes working with that flavor profile,” Baldwin Ryan said.

One advantage to preparing a soup is you can check the flavor while you make it, Ryan said. Another advantage is “it’s delicious,” he added.

“Soup is just one of those foods that I can just sit there and eat,” he said. “I can watch TV and have my soup next to me and recline. I just really like soup.”

Desiree Reed, 21, and her father, Bruce, worked on the opposite end of the competition kitchen preparing a white chicken chili and gluten-free pumpkin muffins made with goat’s milk.

“Desiree has celiac’s disease, so she makes a lot of gluten-free stuff,” Bruce said. “She enjoys cooking, being special needs if she finds something she enjoys doing, I enjoy watching her doing it.”

“I love cooking,” Desiree said. “I like eating food and it’s fun to make.”

In the center kitchen set up were brothers Seth, 12, and Riley Reister, 11. The brothers prepared a rabbit tater tot breakfast bake and a hashbrown egg bake, respectively. This year was Seth’s fourth in the competition.

“We usually work with rabbit or chicken,” Seth said. “Rabbit is usually a little easier than chicken, you don’t have to worry about food safety as much. Rabbits are also easier to raise than chickens, you don’t have to run after them or look for lice in feathers.”

Seth said cooking is great because when he is working with food, he doesn’t have to worry about anything else.

“I also like cooking because it’s because it can be a career – people go to college to study cooking,” he said.

Riley returned for his second year of the competition. It’s less about competing with his brother than it is about having fun, he said.

“Cooking is fun because you can make whatever you want,” he said. “The hardest part is keeping everything under control.”

Rick Sherman, president of the Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair Board, was one of the judges for the competition.

“It’s good watching the kids keep busy in the winter months, and they are using the animals they raise to cook with,” he said. “It’s great to watch the kids accomplish things. Most 4-H kids aren’t afraid to try anything, and if they fail, they just try harder the next time.”

It’s amazing to see what the 4-H kids can do, said audience member Judy Maygar, who came to support Reed.

“This is their thing. Their creation out of what they like,” she said. “I think it’s amazing.”

When the crumbs had settled and the plates were cleared away, all of the competitors were winners.

n Ryan took first in the senior egg division for his Italian baked eggs.

n Reed took first in the senior chicken division and the senior goat division for her white chicken chili and pumpkin muffins.

n Seth Reister took first in the intermediate rabbit division for his breakfast bake.

n Riley Reister took first in the intermediate egg division for his egg bake.