Junior Chef team takes runner-up at state finals

LaRue County School Superintendent David Raleigh, Lorelai Sherrard, Amy Hammers, Coach Sheila Skaggs, Tori Perry, and Director of Food Services Stephanie Utley
LaRue County School Superintendent David Raleigh, Lorelai Sherrard, Amy Hammers, Coach Sheila Skaggs, Tori Perry, and Director of Food Services Stephanie Utley

Story Courtesy of The LaRue County Herald News


The LaRue County Junior Chef team competed at the 2019 Kentucky State Fair again this past week, as the team had made their way through a field of 16 to advance to the final 4 of the Kentucky Farm to School Junior Chef State Finals.

On August 15, LaRue County won round 1 defeating Pikeville Independent, advancing to round 2 on Friday August 16 where they went on to win over Greenup County, positioning themselves in the final four competition held August 22 and 23.

On Thursday, August 22, the trio of Lorelai Sherrard, Tori Perry, and Amy Hammers took on Harlan, which had advanced with wins over Taylor County and Central Hardin in the competition. At the final four level, the LaRue Junior Chef team were already guaranteed scholarship opportunities, but the team pulled together and presented their ‘Hawks Beefy Chips and Dip’ to the panel of three judges, and were announced as the winner of the semifinals, moving them on to compete for the State Championship title on Friday to face Montgomery County.

The trio had worked together through the entire event but never dreamed they would be competing in the final round. But with focus, determination, and a true Hawk spirit, the ladies of team LaRue County Junior Chefs, had fun while representing their school and their community very well.

Their coach, Sheila Skaggs, said, “My experience with the Junior Chef Team has been simply amazing; these three girls have been so eager to learn, and have always gone above and beyond.  They have had so many ideas (some we used and some we did not) but we always talked it through. I have been so blessed to have had the opportunity to coach and work alongside these wonderful young ladies.”

Those attending the competition were so involved in cheering on the team, as they took the stage the final time on Friday at 10 a.m. But this final competition was a little more intense.

The final cook off hosted 5 chef judges, including Chef David Dodd, executive director of the National Center for Hospitality Studies at Sullivan University. During the one hour and thirty minute timed competition, the five judges asked questions and did interviews of the trio as they sliced and diced their way through the competition. Chef Dodd approached Coach Skaggs, and asked questions about the team in regards to their abilities and standards. Camera crews and photographers from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture were up in front and on stage with the chefs during the competition. At around the 1 hour and 15 minute mark, the LaRue County Junior Chefs presented their award winning ‘Hawks Beefy Chips and Dip’ to the five judges and one for the presentation table.

It took nearly another hour before the judge’s decision was made final.

In their first ever attempt at the competition, the LaRue County Junior Chef Team was selected as runner up to three time state champions Montgomery County, which is something to be very proud of.

The ladies were all presented medallions and each participant received a $10,000 scholarship to Sullivan University by Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Ryan Quarles, which in their words is ‘life changing’.

When asked what this has meant to the coach and the three team members, Coach Sheila Skaggs said, “This competition has opened up so many opportunities for them and their hard work has paid off in a huge way with $10,000 scholarships to Sullivan College to use in any field they choose to help start their future.”

Junior Chef Lorelai Sherrard referenced the opportunity as, “I think it is a great opportunity for kids who aren’t into sports. Even if you don’t want to become a chef in the future, it will help you learn how to cook for when you are on your own and don’t have someone else to cook for you. Personally I loved being part of Junior Chef because I want to become a chef in the future and my $10,000 scholarship helps put me one step closer to my dream becoming a reality.”

“At first Junior Chef was something for me to do for fun. There were many times where I had other things come up and was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stay and compete with the team. Everyone worked around my busy schedule so we could compete. We are so lucky to have a coach like Sheila. She has taught us all so much that I think we will go on and use in our life. Culinary is not what I want to do when I get out of school, but with this scholarship we won I will still be able to go on and get a career in nursing. I’m so thankful for everyone I got to work with. They are such great team members. We have all grown closer from staying after school and joking around to riding in the van places or staying up all night in the hotel. It will be different next year without Amy. She has been a big part of the team because she is a senior. She has made things work in her schedule for all of us. I’m just so glad that the people I got to meet and work with will be in my life for a while”, said teammate Victoria (Tori) Perry.

Senior Amy Hammers was emotional following the final competition. She was overwhelmed by her first time ever to attend the Kentucky State Fair, much less being the State runner up to such a high profile competition, landing her and her teammates each $10,000 in scholarships.

“My experience with Jr. Chef has been amazing. I have learned a lot about teamwork and working around everything and everyone’s schedule when it came to us needing to practice. The experience was great because I am a shy person and not the one who steps out of her comfort zone. So I had to face a few fears of mine which included being in front of people and talking to more people. Junior Chef has been awesome and I wouldn’t have it any other way but to have had a great year. We had fun and we experienced a lot that none of us had ever done before. If I had a chance to do it another year I would definitely do it again; there’s no doubt in my mind. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would be on a cooking team and would have accomplished so much. Over all my experience with Junior Chef was amazing”, senior LaRue County Junior Chef Amy Hammers stated.

The trio had recently been recognized as winners of the Food and Dining category in the LaRue County Herald News ’20 Under 30” program, as they are no doubt winners in their culinary field.

“I hope they have enjoyed it half as much as I have”, said Coach Sheila Skaggs.

Amy Hammers commented on behalf of their entire team saying, “We would like to thank our wonderful coach Sheila for coaching us! And to the public of LaRue County and to Mr. Raleigh, LaRue County Schools Superintendent for all their support. And one last thing, thank you to Mrs. Allison Shepherd for coming along and following our journey.”

The teams winning dish recipe can be found at right. For more information about the LaRue County Junior Chef Team contact Stephanie Utley, Director of Food Service of LaRue County Schools.

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