Ashwaubenon chef, student to compete in cooking challenge
By Jim Paul
ASHWAUBENON – The dream of an eighth grade student from Ashwaubenon’s Parkview Middle School will soon come true when he competes in a televised cooking competition at this year’s School Nutrition Association (SNA) of Wisconsin’s annual conference.
The conference, geared toward any and all school nutrition staff, is spicing things up this year with the addition of its first-ever cooking competition.
Fork Farms, a local hydroponics equipment supplier, is partnering with NxtGen First Taste TV, a new media platform showcasing K-12 dining, to host the live competition.
Area chefs will compete as they prepare the best school-nutrition-approved lunch with products that can be grown in flex farms.
Competitor teams include: Chef Nohl Depies, executive sous chef for Delaware North, the hospitality partner of the Green Bay Packers, and a SNA member yet to be drawn; Chef Anthony Scardina, from Affinity Group, and Stephanie Sheley, from the Holmen School District and SNA Employee of the Year; and one of Ashwaubenon School District’s head chefs, Lois Ludwig, and Parkview eighth grader Christopher Schmitz.
Ludwig has been with the district’s nutrition department for 16 years.
After receiving her culinary degree from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, she said she worked in various family restaurants before finding her way to Parkview.
In addition to her duties at the middle school, Ludwig does high-end catering and keeps busy by helping to develop recipes for family restaurants like The Pancake Place.
Ludwig said she also makes sure to make time to bake cakes for care packages for her sons – one of whom is in the Navy, and another in the Marines.
Partners in the kitchen
Ludwig said Schmitz’s passion for all things food made selecting him as her cooking partner easy.
“I was shocked (she picked me),” Schmitz said. “I thought she was going to choose other kitchen staff. I didn’t expect it to be me. We talk to each other a lot about cooking stuff, so I guess it kind of makes sense.”
She said it was his love of cooking that brought them together to begin with.
“Chris loves to cook and share what he has cooked,” Ludwig said. “When he makes a recipe, he loves to share it with myself and the ladies in the kitchen. And we love hearing about it. It’s just nice to hear somebody with such passion.”
The competition is not only NxtGen First Taste TV’s first-ever competition, it is also their first live episode.
The format of the competition is said to be similar to that of the Food Network show, “Chopped.”
Schmitz said he has already participated in multiple school cooking competitions against staff members and is ready to join forces with Ludwig.
Cooking since he was little, Schmitz said being in the kitchen calms him.
“I have anxiety,” he said. “To relieve stress, I go into my kitchen and cook, sometimes with my dad. That really helped my anxiety, and I loved it ever since.”
When asked what his favorite cuisine to cook was, without missing a beat, Schmitz said Italian.
“My favorite is pasta,” he said. “I won a cooking challenge for my buffalo mac and cheese.”
Schmitz said he has been working his way around the world with his cooking – creating Mexican, Italian, French, German and Hawaiian dishes, now even trying his luck at Indian cuisine.
“I can cook anything,” he said. “I am good at cooking soup. I won a challenge cooking loaded baked potato soup. I added bacon to make it stand out. I like to cook but I don’t like to clean up.”
Schmitz has high hopes for his culinary future.
“I plan to become a chef. I dream of being on the Food Network,” he said.
For this teenager, that journey begins with the NxtGen First Taste TV competition.
The cooking duo are familiar with Fork Farms’s flex farm units.
Parkview has two units in-house, and was recently able to serve a fresh salad and pesto pasta salad to all of the student body with the harvest.
The flex farm unit can be used to grow lettuce, herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes and much more. The cycle for lettuce is roughly four to five weeks from germination to harvest and the unit can produce more than 20 pounds of lettuce.
What these two partners in crime plan to whip up for the competition is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure – their shared love for cooking will make it a show worth watching.
“Honestly, (the thing I’m most excited about is) cooking, and seeing what other ingredients they’re going to have us use,” Schmitz said. “Ms. Lois is a good cook so I know the food is gonna be good.”
The event will be held at 9:30 a.m. June 22, at the KI Convention Center in downtown Green Bay.