Gateway: Living

Tailgate Cookoff event helps young chefs show off their culinary creations

Ayla Hubbs and Holden Hubbs, both from Vaughn Elementary, display their delicious burgers.
Ayla Hubbs and Holden Hubbs, both from Vaughn Elementary, display their delicious burgers. Special to the Gateway

On the way to the Peninsula Schools Education Foundation Board meeting with Marcia Harris a few weeks ago, we detoured to catch the Tailgate Cookoff for elementary school kids at Peninsula High School. I hadn’t a clue it was taking place but delighted in sharing some fun and some very tasty food samples prepared by these talented some-day-to-be culinary masters.

I recalled a few years ago delighting in catching our youngsters as culinary teams in the PHS kitchen creating a whole series of marvelous and varied dishes for the annual Kids Can Cook competition. This Tailgate Cookoff was confined to preparation of a seemingly limitless assortment of variations on a theme of just hamburgers, as in tailgate parties. Only because I felt it my duty as a reporter to do so, I sampled several of the delicious concoctions. When these youngsters move beyond the elementary school level, McDonald’s and Burger King are gonna have serious competition problems.

Artondale Elementary’s Denali Ridout, the event’s Grand Prize Winner, said, “I loved being at the cook-off. I love cooking. I love competing.”

Purdy Elementary’s Bella Manglona said that her “favorite part of the competition was cooking,” and she liked “making up the recipe.” She was happy to get the award for Healthiest Burger and said she would definitely participate again.

I was told by Katie Walters, the district’s child nutrition director, that the Tailgate Cookoff started two years ago and was a spinoff of the annual Kids Can Cook competition, which is still held in the spring. Walters said Peninsula School District Board Chair Rand Wilhelmsen loved the Kids Can Cook event so much he wanted to do something else, “so we came up with the tailgate. We also thought it would be fun to involve parents and make it a team event.”

Rachel Cowart of Discovery Elementary said, “It was fun and I enjoyed tasting other peoples’ hamburgers. The kitchen was amazing!”

Her sister, Kelsea Cowart, also of Discovery, said, “It was a fun experience and everyone else’s burgers were delicious. I wish that I had a kitchen like the one at Peninsula High School in my house. All in all, it was awesome.”

Walters said, “We liked the idea of a tailgate as then we could have this event and then they could go to a local football game after. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, that did not happen this year. We are planning on doing this again next school year and will have our Kids Can Cook competition in the spring. These two events are a great way to connect with students on a different level.”

And, I might add, “a tasty level.”

For info, contact Nancy Steuk at 253-530-1014 or Katie Walters at 253-530-1015.

Hugh McMillan is a longtime contributing writer for the Gateway. He can be reached at