Rock Hill student a national finalist in Future Chef event

Emily Clemens enjoys a peanut butter and banana rollup before school at Old Pointe Elementary. She didn’t expect her breakfast to take her to a national chef competition.

Ten-year-old Emily learned Wednesday, amid cheers in the Old Pointe cafeteria, that she has been named a top 40 finalist in the national 2016 Sodexo Future Chef’s competition. Her entry will now move on to the next level.

“I didn’t think I had any chance of winning,” the fourth-grader said Wednesday, after she was surprised with the news during her lunch period. “I am so excited.”

Emily won a Rock Hill school district-level Future Chef competition in early March. It is sponsored by Sodexo, the school district’s food service provider.

She was one of six Rock Hill students in grades three to five chosen to prepare breakfast entries in a competition at Dutchman Creek Middle School.

Her recipe and a photo of the dish, which includes peanut butter, banana, granola and a drizzle of honey rolled up in a whole wheat tortilla, was among 230 student entries submitted to the national level, said Jeff Clarke, Sodexo area general manager. He said the competition was held in most of the 340 school districts served by Sodexo.

Clarke said Emily’s recipe was judged among the top 40 nationally. Five criteria were used in the judging: kid friendly, ease of preparation, healthy food, plate appeal and overall presentation, he said.

Emily likes it because it’s filling and tastes great. “It’s sweet with the honey and crunchy with the granola, and I love the taste of peanuts,” she said.

As a top 40 winner, Emily received a prize package that includes an iPad mini, a case and other iPad accessories and a $100 iTunes gift card.

Emily and her parents, John and Diane Clemens, said they thought the school’s request for a student breakfast recipe was an assignment for class when Emily came home with it.

She created the recipe and submitted it, then learned she had been chosen as one of the winners to compete in the district Sodexo competition.

Emily said she altered amounts of some ingredients in her recipe slightly before the district competition to make sure it complied with recommended dietary guidelines.

“I wanted it to have the right amount of protein and the right amount of fruit and grains for a breakfast, so I looked all that up,” she said.

She also included a note on her recipe about substitutions for people with special dietary needs. Those substitutions include gluten-free tortillas, soy butter instead of peanut butter and other breakfast cereals instead of the granola.

Each student in the Rock Hill district competition was assigned a chef assistant from Sodexo. George Gurley, a Sodexo operations manager, worked with Emily.

“She was amazing,” Gurley said. “Great attitude, great sense of humor.”

John Clemens said Emily worked hard on her recipe.

“It was something she’d had versions of before, but she made it extra nutritious for this,” he said. “She was so excited, she put a lot of personality into it.”

Clarke said the next round of competition will narrow the top entries down to five; he said those winners will be announced by the end of this week.

The top five winners will be asked to prepare their recipes on video, which will be uploaded to YouTube and viewers can vote on the winner, Clarke said.

Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077