Xpress, the Coolest Section of the St. Petersburg Times, is the home for features, news and views of interest to young readers. Most of the work in Xpress, which appears on Mondays in Floridian, is produced by the Times' X-Team. The team of journalists ages 9-17 from around the Tampa Bay area is selected every year at the end of the school year to serve during the following school term. The current team of 12 was chosen out of 150 applicants. Watch for X-Team application forms in Xpress during the month of May.

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Culinary kids

[Times photos: Toni L. Sandys]
Contestants line up behind some of their entries in the regional round of the Pillsbury Kids Bake-Off held at the Florida Aquarium in April.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 4, 2001

These young cooks have found the recipe for success - winning prizes in a baking contest.

TAMPA -- An elegant dining experience: a table set with tall, thin crystal goblets filled with ice-cold water to sip between entrees; blue tapers in silver candlesticks; and chairs -- tall chairs with puffy cushions . . . This is what I had imagined when I was asked to be a judge for the regional Publix/Pillsbury Kids' Bake-Off at the Florida Aquarium. I carefully practiced my tasting and sipping techniques to be ready for the big day.

After assuring aquarium employees that I really was a judge for the bake-off, I was led into a hidden room that appeared to be the storage area for the volunteers who helped put on the event. What?! Was this really where the judges were supposed to be? (My judging colleagues were Martin Speechley, a reporter from WFLA-Ch. 8, and John Lewis, chef from the Home Gourmet cooking store in Dunedin.) Instead of being seated at a long, high table covered in a thick white tablecloth, fine china and crystal, we sat confined in a room with an endless supply of plastic forks, plastic foam plates and a Doughboy pen to take notes with.

(Okay, so we did get to watch a Pillsbury Doughboy costume being inflated and deflated, over and over again, for our mealtime entertainment.)

Kristin Haverhill of Umatilla proudly displays her ticket to the National Kids Bake-Off to be held at Sea World in Orlando in June.
The recipes clearly reflected the interest and appetites of the 9- to 12-year-old chefs. I tasted every kind of taco and chili: some imaginative, some familiar. There was chili in a bowl with bread, chili on a muffin, chili stuffed in corn bread. Other recipes included a few desserts, a pasta dish and a soup. The most original and unusual was tuna-stuffed biscuits, which every judge carefully inspected before trying. They tasted a bit unusual, but everyone who tried them said the dish's creator certainly had an imagination!

By far, though, the dish that made the biggest impression on the judges was one dessert with more chocolate than the town of Hershey, Pennsylvania. It clearly seemed to be a 9-year-old boy's dream dessert.

I was very impressed at all the young chefs' creativity in choices of recipes and presentations. I had a hard time convincing myself that these recipes were actually prepared by kids younger than I. Not surprisingly, after tasting so many fantastic recipes, I had no appetite for lunch!

Among the fifteen dishes, three stood out in the minds -- or rather the stomachs -- of the judges. When all the entries had been nibbled and the scorecards filled out, the marks were tallied up. After serious conversing among the judges, the winners were decided.

Da-da-da-dah!! (Drum roll, please!)

The second place winner was Frank Maguire, 12, of Orlando, with Tasty Taco Squares! (He took home a $500 savings bond.) In first place with One-Pan (a rice, meat and vegetable mixture topped with biscuits) was Jennifer Carr, 11, of Ocala! (Her prize was a $1,000 savings bond.)

The grand prize winner was Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas, by Kristin Haverhill of Umatilla.
And the grand prize winner was Kristin Haverhill, 10, of Umatilla, with Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas!

Kristin's prize is an expenses-paid trip to the Pillsbury National Finals at Sea World in Orlando June 16-19 to compete against other young chefs from around the country. Winner of the national round will receive $25,000 in cash and a $25,000 donation to a charity of the winner's choice.

The winners talked later about their recipes and the experience. Jennifer Carr's One-Pan was a family recipe that she revised. "My stepdad used to make something similar," Jennifer said, "and I changed it a little and added stuff." She said she must have practiced the recipe at least 20 times. That's a lot of One-Pan for her family to eat for dinner! "I just couldn't stop laughing," Jennifer said. "I couldn't believe I had won!"

Second place winner Frank Maguire said he was thrilled to be able to compete at the Aquarium. "Out of so many kids, I was glad to be one of them," he said. Frank said winning was good, too, because it meant that he would have some money to save for college. "I was also happy that I could be one of the boys to win." (There were other boy finalists in other regional contests.)

Kristin Haverhill, grand prize winner, said her recipe also was an old family favorite. "I was very shocked," Kristin said about hearing her name announced. "I never thought I would win."

Laura Krantz, 13, will be in the eighth grade in home school in Tampa.

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