Ninety-One School's Madi Bigej wins national recipe contest with cauliflower tots

A Canby fourth-grader certainly knows her way around a recipe.

And to prove it, Ninety-One School's Madi Bigej just won the national Sodexo 2017 Future Chef competition, beating out four other national finalists with her recipe for cauliflower tots.

"It felt very exciting. I was just really happy," Bigej said of getting the news.

She said she enjoys cooking and creating in the kitchen because it offers her a chance to be with her family. Madi  Bigej was named the 2017 Future Chef.

"I think I cook about three times a week," she said. "I've always enjoyed cooking with my family. So, that's how I got started."

She said the idea for the winning recipe started with a neighbor, then progressed as she incorporated other elements into the dish. When she was done, she'd created an award-winner.

In addition to the tot dish, she said that her favorite foods are grilled cheese, quesadillas, hamburgers, and steak and chicken, to name a few.

Bigej will receive a celebratory event at Ninety-One School, and she and her classmates will receive prizes valued at approximately $1,800. The school plans to have an assembly to present the prizes, which Bigej will work with Sodexo to determine. She said she wants the prizes to benefit the whole school.

The Canby School District's nutrition services will add Bigej's award-winning cauliflower tots to the school lunch menu this month. Her recipe will also be featured on next year's promotional menus for Sodexo-served schools across the country.

Bigej said that it will "look weird" seeing her dish on the school lunch menu, but is excited to see what people think when they taste the dish.

As news of her win has begun to circulate, she said she's been getting a lot of congratulations.

"It's kind of weird," she said. "Just all of a sudden you entered a competition and then you win out of the whole nation."

Sodexo's national initiative, which is in its seventh year, was created to get students thinking about making healthy food choices while also encouraging them to get active and creative in the kitchen.

This year, students from 256 school districts joined more than 2,500 other students representing more 1,000 Sodexo-served school sites in 29 states nationally in this fun and educational challenge.

School districts across the country have held Future Chefs events throughout February and March of this year. The winning student from each participating district was considered for regional finalist awards, and the selected regional finalists competed to become one of five national finalists.

Canby's Bigej made it through the early stages to end up as one of the national finalists, then won the whole enchilada.

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