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Local chef, students bring Buffalo's Farm to School program to the cafeteria

An annual chef, student cooking competition has added an infusion of healthy fruit, vegetables, meat into local school lunchrooms.

Bryanna Flanagan, Jamea Love and Makhiya Turner wouldn't classify themselves as "chefs" by any means.

"When I try to cook at home, it goes ... not good," smiled Love, a 6th-grader.

"But the ramen noodles we cooked were good," chimed in Flanagan, also in 6th grade. "With hot cheetoes! (Laughs)"

"I almost blew up my oatmeal," 7th-grader Turner laughed to herself.

But thanks to Buffalo's Farm to School program, each of them had a chance to step into a new role in the kitchen, for the benefit of their fellow students.

This past October, the girls all competed in the 4th Annual Farm to School Chef Challenge: four teams of students teamed with four local chefs, to create the best recipe possible from locally grown and sourced fruits, vegetables, and meats.

The winner: Chef Andrew Montesano's team, including Flanagan, who created a butternut squash-infused-meatloaf with honey and ketchup glaze, mashed sweet potatoes, mixed veggies, a corn muffin, and an apple crisp the girls all loved.

"I had a new favorite dessert when we made apple crisp with them," said Turner. 

"Oooh with the whipped cream and the ice cream?" Flanagan asked.

"Yeah," Turner smiled, as all three girls seemed to trail off remembering the dessert.

But for the students at West Hertel Academy, the recipe was no distant memory; it became a reality, served to every student for lunch in mid-February.

"They actually had a lot of really good skills," said Montesano, referencing all the students who participated in the Farm to School Chef Challenge. "Just hanging out with them was incredibly satisfying, almost more than sitting up there in a chef coat saying I made this meatloaf for a panel of judges."

As for the girls, they're ready to jump in and try their hand at cooking again as soon as possible.

"Cooking with different people, and getting to know each other better," Turner remembered. "I learned a few skills from them, knowing the ingredients, doing the recipe. ... It was a great experience."