‘Never give up’: Chehalis elementary school students compete in Future Chefs National Challenge Competition


When asked if there was anything he wanted to say after his elotes won first place in the 2024 Sodexo Future Chefs National Challenge at Orin Smith Elementary School in Chehalis on Thursday, fourth-grader Kason Talanoa said, “Never give up.”

The sentiment cut to the heart of Thursday’s competition, which aimed to encourage kids to be active and creative in the kitchen while also thinking about healthy food choices.

“Keep encouraging those kids to cook. Who knows what their future might bring,” said Orin Smith Elementary School Assistant Principal Jonathan Fox, who emceed the competition on Thursday.

This year, 34 Chehalis elementary school students submitted healthy recipes inspired by their favorite lunch meals, and eight were selected to participate in the district-wide finals event. Finalists had two hours to prepare and present their creations on Thursday before being assessed on criteria including originality, taste, kid friendliness and use of healthy ingredients.

The finalists were fourth-graders Kason, Carson Bortner, Alayla Bramblett and Ella Smith; and fifth-graders Alyce Bayard, Cale Coleman, Piper Dyer and Addison Schwall.

Cale placed third with his “spaghetti casserole” recipe. Addison, who made “Grandma Caroline’s lemon zucchini cookies,” placed second.

The Future Chefs event at Orin Smith Elementary was one of 253 taking place across the country throughout February and March, according to Sodexo.

The Centralia School District is scheduled to hold its own Future Chefs event on Tuesday, March 12.

The winning student from each participating district will be considered for 40 regional finalist awards, and the selected regional finalists will vie to become one of five national finalists competing for the public’s vote on SodexoUSA.com.