MONROE, La. — Northeast Louisiana 4-H members learned culinary tricks of the trade from Chef Cory Bahr at a culinary workshop held March 17 at Bahr’s catering kitchen in Monroe.
Eighteen 4-H’ers from eight northeast Louisiana parishes donned aprons and gloves to join Bahr for a two-hour, hands-on cooking lesson.
Bahr, an award-winning chef and Monroe native, said he sponsored the workshop to inspire the next generation of hospitality professionals to eat better, live longer and enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
The student chefs-in-training worked in teams to prepare Louisiana Gulf Coast shrimp and grits, one of Bahr’s signature recipes.
“I loved how his energy filled the room and made me feel so welcome,” Morehouse Magnet School seventh-grader Vincent Winston said.
Winston said he aspires to be a chef one day and was “spot on” answering some tough questions during the workshop.
“I learned new techniques for cutting and preparing foods, and the food was really good,” he said.
Bahr, a Food Network “Chopped!” champion and recent runner-up on the “Next Food Network Star” cooking show, is a former winner of the Great American Seafood Cook-Off and continues to host the annual competition held in New Orleans.
Bahr is also a frequent host of the 4-H Edition of the Great American Seafood Cook-Off. He encouraged workshop participants to form teams and prepare to enter the state competition held each year in June at 4-H University, which is held on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge.
Impressed by the knowledge and ability of the 4-H’ers at the national competition, Bahr said he wanted to become more involved.
“I was blown away by their understanding of food safety, sanitization, timing and ability to speak to the judges,” he said.
After presenting a similar training workshop for 4-H’ers in Grant Parish coordinated by AgCenter agent Quincy Vidrine, Bahr put plans in motion to offer a similar opportunity for 4-H members in the Monroe area.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of these youth,” said AgCenter regional 4-H coordinator Terri Crawford.
Crawford said the skills learned at the workshop will be useful at home in their own kitchen but hopes the experience will encourage participation in the Healthy Food Star contest at 4-H University or even a culinary career later on.
At the workshop, Bahr shared tips, tricks and kitchen hacks to help students speed up the prep process and save time during the 60-minute national seafood competition.
For Richland Parish 4-H’er Madi Hendrix, the experience has given her a new perspective about food. “Food is a form of art,” she said, adding that she learned how to be more efficient in the kitchen.
Madi’s mom, Dana Hendrix, said she was looking forward to the workshop perhaps more than her daughter. Having unsuccessfully tried to recreate Bahr’s shrimp and grits dish at home, she said she was excited to try again.
Bahr has built his reputation promoting classic Louisiana fare made from locally sourced products. Louisiana culture, food and agriculture were central themes throughout the workshop.
“We do beautiful things all around the state when it comes to agriculture and food,” Bahr said.
Bahr stressed the importance of reading food product labels and knowing where foods originate.
“One of the most important things you can do to help your local and state economy is to be a conscientious shopper,” he said. “We want to keep our money here in Louisiana.”
Concordia Parish 10th-grader John Garett Patrick said he learned more about the importance of preparing healthy foods with Louisiana products. “There are lots of foods coming in from other places that we should buy domestically. Just read the label,” he said.
Madison Parish eighth-grader Averi Austin said she loves to cook, enter 4-H cooking contests and try new recipes in her free time. “I’ve been looking forward to learning from someone with professional culinary experience, and he taught me so much,” she said.
East Carroll Parish seventh-grader Renata Jones said her motivation to attend the workshop could be summed up in one word — food. “It was amazing,” she said.
Tensas Parish adult volunteer and former 4-H member Kristen VandeVen attended the workshop with her daughters, Anna Camille and Katie. She said she enjoyed 4-H as a youth because it showed her a world outside her rural community.
“The girls are so excited about cooking now,” VandeVen said.