Nine-year-old winning chef

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Madeleine Steppel chops tomatoes in Camp Louise’s kitchen as she helps prepare her award-winning recipe that earned her a lunch with first lady Michelle Obama.

by Suzanne Pollak
Staff Writer


Children at Camp Louise, an overnight Jewish camp in western Maryland, feasted on fish chowder Monday in a recipe created by fellow camper and now award-winning chef Madeleine Steppel.

Junior chef Steppel, who will begin fourth grade at Great Falls Elementary School soon, is the Virginia winner in The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. On Aug. 20, she will join winners from the 49 other states, as well as Washington, D.C., and the four U.S. territories at a Kid’s State Dinner and a tour of the White House hosted by first lady Michelle Obama.

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Her dish, fish chowder and citrus salad with strawberries and dried cranberries, was served to more than 600 campers and staff. The 9-year-old junior chef from Reston donned a white chef’s coat, hair net and gloves as she helped in the kitchen that day. She peeled potatoes, stirred the roux and cut up strawberries and tomatoes.

Her recipe, which was created to feed four, was enlarged by the camp staff. Madeleine told Andi Abrams, assistant director of operations, that she couldn’t believe how large the tilt skillet was and how much margarine was used.


In her entry, Madeleine explained that she decided to make a chowder since milk is Virginia’s state beverage.?She noted she was inspired by Sen. Mark Warner’s (D-Va.) recipe for creamless asparagus soup, which she found in the Celebrate Virginia Cookbook. Her other inspiration was her favorite television show, the Food Network’s Chopped.

“My chowder is gluten-free, nut-free, kosher and halal,” she wrote in her entry.

Her mother, Debra, said she and Madeleine have been cooking together for about seven years, and that they often use ingredients from their own garden.

“She basically epitomizes the Michelle Obama garden,”?Debra Steppel said.

Her recipe was chosen by a panel of judges that included Sam Kass, White House assistant chef; chef Jose Andres; Marshall and Alex Reid, authors of Portion Size Me; Epicurious editor-in-Chief Tanya Steel; and representatives from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education.

Fish chowder:

3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
4 cups low fat milk (separated into 1 cup plus 3 cups)
1 pound frozen peas & carrots
3 white potatoes (peeled & diced into one-half inch cubes)
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1.5-2 pounds white boneless fish (basa, tilapia, or similar)
Salt and white pepper to taste
Peel and dice potatoes. Place potatoes in a large glass bowl. Add water to just cover potatoes. Microwave four minutes on high. Add peas and carrots; add more water to cover all vegetables. Microwave on high for three minutes more. Drain and set vegetables aside. Wash fish. Cut fish into two inch chunks; set aside. Melt butter in a large pot on stove; do not scorch. Add flour; whisk flour into butter, blending to make a smooth roux. Reduce heat to medium low. Add 1 cup milk. Stir until smooth and creamy, removing all lumps. Add remaining milk, all vegetables, and fish chunks. Add garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and white pepper. Heat on medium until fish turns white (about 10-15 min.), stirring every so often to heat everything through. Serve immediately.

Fruity salad:

Approximately one-quarter pound assorted spring salad greens or lettuce (washed and spun)
One-half pint cherry tomatoes (washed and cut in half)
4-6 strawberries (washed, hulled, cut into quarters or eighths)
One-third cup dried cranberries
Place greens on plates. Arrange tomatoes and strawberries on the greens. Sprinkle with dried cranberries. Add dressing just before serving.

Citrus vinaigrette salad dressing:

One-third cup orange juice
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients in a small container with airtight lid. Cover tightly. Shake.

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