ASHWAUBENON – An eighth grade student at Ashwaubenon’s Parkview Middle School will soon have his dream come true when he enters a televised cook-off at this year’s annual Wisconsin School Nutrition Association (SNA) conference.
The conference, aimed at all school nutrition workers, spices things up even more this year with its first-ever cooking competition.
Fork Farms, a local supplier of hydroponic equipment, is partnering with NxtGen First Taste TV, a new media platform showcasing K-12 food, to host the live competition.
Local chefs compete as they prepare the best school nutritionally verified lunch using produce that can be grown on flex farms.
The competition teams include: Executive Chef Nohl Depies, Executive Sous Chef for Delaware North, the Green Bay Packers’ hospitality partner and a yet-to-be-chosen SNA member; Chef Anthony Scardina from Affinity Group and Stephanie Sheley from Holmen School District and SNA Employee of the Year; and Lois Ludwig, one of the Ashwaubenon School District’s executive chefs, and Christopher Schmitz, eighth grader from Parkview.
Ludwig has been working in the district’s nutrition department for 16 years.
After receiving her culinary degree from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, she said she worked at various family restaurants before finding her way to Parkview.
In addition to her middle school duties, Ludwig is high-end catering and keeps busy creating recipes for family restaurants like The Pancake Place.
Ludwig said she also takes time to bake care package cakes for her sons – one of whom is in the Navy and the other is in the Marines.
partners in the kitchen
Ludwig said Schmitz’s passion for all things food made it easy to choose him as her cooking partner.
“I was shocked (she picked me),” Schmitz said. “I thought she would choose other kitchen staff. I didn’t expect it to be me. We talk a lot about cooking, so I guess it makes sense.”
She said it was his love of cooking that initially brought them together.
“Chris loves to cook and share what he’s cooked,” Ludwig said. “When he makes a recipe he’s happy to share it with me and the ladies in the kitchen. And we love hearing about it. It’s just nice to hear someone with such passion.”
The competition is not only NxtGen First Taste TV’s first-ever competition, but also their first live episode.
The format of the competition is said to be similar to that of the Food Network show Chopped.
Schmitz said he has already competed in several school cooking competitions against staff and is willing to team up with Ludwig.
Schmitz has been cooking since he was little and says being in the kitchen calms him down.
“I’m scared,” he said. “To relieve stress, I go to my kitchen and cook, sometimes with my dad. It really helped with my anxiety and I’ve loved it ever since.”
When asked what he likes to cook most, Schmitz answered straight away in Italian.
“My favorite is pasta,” he said. “I won a cooking challenge for my Buffalo Mac and Cheese.”
Schmitz said he’s worked his way around the world with his cooking – creating Mexican, Italian, French, German and Hawaiian dishes and is now even trying his hand at Indian cuisine.
“I can cook anything,” he says. “I’m good at making soup. I won a challenge in cooking a Baked Potato Soup. I added bacon to make it stand out. I like to cook, but I don’t like to clean up.”
Schmitz has high hopes for his culinary future.
“I plan to be a chef. I dream of being on the Food Network,” he said.
For this teenager, that journey begins with the NxtGen First Taste TV contest.
The cooking duo are familiar with Fork Farms flex farm units.
Parkview has two units in-house and was recently able to serve all students a fresh salad and pesto pasta salad with the harvest.
Lettuce, herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes and much more can be grown with the Flex Farm Unit. The cycle for lettuce is approximately four to five weeks from germination to harvest and the unit can produce over 20 pounds of lettuce.
What these two partners in crime have in store for the competition remains to be seen, but one thing is certain – their shared love of cooking will make it a show to watch.
“Honestly, (what I’m most looking forward to is) cooking and seeing what other ingredients we’re going to use,” Schmitz said. “MS. Lois is a good cook so I know the food will be good.”
The event will take place on June 22 at 9:30 am at the KI Convention Center in downtown Green Bay.