DBG Student Chefs ‘Savor, Share and Celebrate’ with Spirited Cooking Competition

There were plenty of cooks in the DBG kitchen. Several teams of student chefs and volunteers to be exact. They mixed, stirred, flipped and garnished a variety of delicious and creative pancakes during Savor, Share and Celebrate, a special event and Chopped-style cooking competition to mark the official opening of the Downtown Boxing Gym’s brand new, state-of-the-art commerical kitchen.

A panel of metro Detroit chefs and culinary experts including Jared Gadbaw with Oak and Reel, Angela Chi from Chi Fan Le, food critic Edwin Taylor of Edds Eats, Jan Delatorre with Michigan Health Endowment Fund, and Sister Pie owner Lisa Ludwinski served as judges during the February 28 event which happened to fall on National Pancake Day.

“What’s inside our pancakes is chocolate chips and M&Ms,” said Jaya, a 5th grade student on the Blue team. “So, really, they’re just chocolate.”

The students formed five teams – Purple, Blue, Green, Red and Black; each team paired with two volunteers. They wore colored aprons specially branded and created by DBG student Eric Williams in the STEAM Lab. The teams chose a sweet or savory bag of “mystery ingredients” and had 20 minutes to prepare, cook, and plate their dishes for the judges to taste. A set of floating judges (Will Branch, Nick Weise, Laurie Solotorow, and Michelle Gagliardi) also scored the teams on important life skills including collaboration, creativity, organization, time management, and teamwork.

“The sweet was a mixture of candy and chocolate, coconut, fruit, blueberries, pineapple,” said Molly Mitchell, DBG’s associate director of culinary arts and former owner of the award winning Detroit diner Rose’s Fine Food. “The savory one had potatoes, pickled red onion, parsley, creme fraiche, and cheese. They could use any combination of the ingredients and toppings including whipped cream and maple syrup.”

In the end, the Purple team (pictured above) won for their stack of extra large blueberry pancakes generously topped with whipped cream. They also won for “team collaboration.” The Blue team was named “most creative,” Red team honored for “best use of time,” and the Black team awarded “best presentation.”

The Blue team served up a pineapple themed “island” pancake along with “whirlpool,” “rainbow,” and “anger” pancakes. Some teams made small stacks of mini pancakes, others opted for the giant, fluffy variety.

“It takes the right combination of eggs, butter, milk and flour [to make the perfect pancake,]” Mitchell revealed. “And you’ve got to flip it at the right time. It takes a lot of things.”

DBG breaks down barriers to help children succeed including providing transportation, access to individualized academic support, transformative mentorship, and more, all with a measured impact and all free of charge. Nutrition plays another key role in ensuring student success.

“We call our whole student wellness platform ‘Seeded at the Table,’ explained Khali Sweeney, DBG’s founder and CEO. “Cooking and nutrition are essential for a healthy life. At DBG, we train kids for life, so understanding the best, most beneficial choices for your body and mind and knowing how to properly prepare food is a big part of that. But there’s even more – mealtime conversations improve vocabulary and communications skills and enable our students to share values and build community in important ways. This helps create life-long bonds. There are a lot of layers and levels to this part of the program.”

DBG has offered cooking classes since 2015 when our youth development program moved into its current 27,500 square foot facility on E. Vernor Highway. Initially, students learned about food and nutrition and meals were prepared in a kitchen donated by talk show host Rachael Ray.

But as the demand for DBG’s services grew and more and more students were added to the program, that kitchen needed to be moved to make room for expanded academic space. For a time, meal prep and cooking classes took place in a makeshift temporary kitchen while the new commercial kitchen was completed.

The brand-new state of the art kitchen, fully equipped for large scale food preparation, was made possible thanks to generous support from the Walter’s Family Foundation, the Carls Foundation, Carhartt, Finish Line Foundation and Michigan Health Endowment Fund, and Virginia Tile. DBG’s culinary team prepares 1,000 from-scratch meals for our students every week. There’s also a daily culinary arts curriculum.

“Cooking is my favorite thing to do,” said Kourtney, age 8. “My whole family knows how to cook and I want to be one who fits in the family of cooking. I practice more and more. I love to cook at DBG.”

Congratulations to our fabulous student chefs and thank you to all of our judges, team members and volunteers for supporting our students during this fun and festive event. Shout out to volunteers: Kurt and Summer Schwarz, Jeri Fishman, Deidra Wilson, Meredith Potter, Steve Wiley, Nancy Wiley, Kyle Suczynski, Humna Tak, and Hayden Stover.