Ffion and Nia Devonald are award-winning chefs, and they aren’t even in high school yet.
The pair — and their herb and tomato rendition of the grilled cheese sandwich — took the junior title during the inaugural 4-H Manitoba Food Challenge Provincial Championship June 10 in Brandon.
“We’ve baked with our family for a while, but only for the last year or so we’ve actually started cooking on our own, like meals and stuff on our own,” 11-year-old Nia Devonald said.
The pair beat out Andrea Rousson and Dylan Williment from the Oak Lake Busy Buddies Club for first.
For the duo from the Laurier Lucky Charms 4-H Club, the well-known cooking show “MasterChef,” which the competition was modelled after, was among their major reasons for competing.
“We both like challenges,” her nine-year-old partner said of the competition. “We thought it would be fun and we got a lot of advice from a whole bunch of cooking shows that we usually watched.”
The 2017 Manitoba Summer Fair formed the backdrop for the competition as six junior teams and four intermediate teams went head to head in the kitchen, each fresh off a win at the regional level.
Taking inspiration from its reality cooking show inspiration, 4-H provided a feature ingredient to be included in all dishes. All teams were required to use Smak Dab Mustard, produced by Carly Minish of Swan River, herself a 4-H alumnus.
Winners were judged on teamwork, communication, taste and presentation.
“We thought that it would be a good way to have our members learn some different skills and, for those who are taking part in food projects, to give them a chance to show off what they’ve learned,” program co-ordinator Courtney Newton said.
For the Devonald team, cooking is something that has, until this year, been separate from 4-H. Nia, who joined the club five years ago, has focused her efforts on horsemanship while Ffion was attracted to beef.
In the intermediate category, Ashlyn Whetter and Lauren McEvoy were the hometown heroes, hailing from Alexander, Man., about a half-hour to the west.
The pair’s vegetable beef soup beat out Souris’s Alysa Remillard and Emily Speers of the Stoney Creek 4-H Beef Club.
“I didn’t really know what to prepare for,” McEvoy said. “I wasn’t really prepared to make a soup, but that’s what we ended up doing, so it was kind of just a big surprise going in. We didn’t know what to expect because it’s the first time either of us had gone to a provincial competition like this.”
The five-year 4-H veteran is a member of an activity club, but has never taken cooking as a 4-H project.
Instead, both she and Speers developed their cooking skills at home and decided to join forces when news of the competition broke.
“We’re really encouraged in our 4-H club to get involved in the events surrounding the area and to try new experiences, so we thought, ‘why not?’” McEvoy said.
Newton claimed the challenge’s first year as a success and said that 4-H Manitoba hopes to make the food challenge an annual event. Brainstorming on potential changes and recipes has already begun, she said.
While the Manitoba Summer Fair hosted the end of the food challenge, the province-wide 4-H art competition has just got underway. Clubs have been asked to submit canvases focused on 4-H and its evolution as part of Canada 150 celebrations.
“So far, we’ve had good response from our clubs,” Newton said.
The public voted on canvases in both Brandon and Lundar over the second weekend of June. The Roseland South Brandon 4-H Club, Poplar Hill 4-H Club, Lundar 4-H Beef Club and Lundar Happy Hands will move on to the provincial championship, to be decided at Brandon’s Ag Ex in October.