Local cafeteria workers compete in state contest

Stella Drake loves her job as cafeteria manager at Meadowcreek High School in Norcross. "When I get ready to come in this door, I just get happy and giddy," Drake said.

The cafeteria manager also loves oatmeal cookies. When she had a chance to enter a recipe contest, she knew exactly which division she would compete in - the oatmeal cookie one, of course.

The contest, which also includes wild rice and wheat roll categories, was sponsored by the Georgia School Nutrition Association. Though Drake has been part of the group for years, she hadn't entered the group's recipe contest before.

Drake's Light Oatmeal Cookie recipe proved to be a winner. She took first place in the oatmeal cookie category at the 4th district competition and went on to prepare her cookies at the state contest held on April 14.

The results of that competition won't be revealed until the Georgia School Nutrition Association's annual conference, which will be held Thursday through Saturday at Jekyll Island. No matter how her cookies place, Drake is glad she took part in the competition.

"I am just trying to be a role model and an example for the other cafeteria managers and food service assistants," Drake said.

While developing her oatmeal cookies, she referred to her mother's recipes for inspiration. Originally, Drake, who is diabetic, intended to create a recipe using Splenda, but her experiments with the artificial sweetener weren't successful.

Drake decided to use bananas in the cookies instead. "It worked out fine, using bananas," she said.

Her Light Oatmeal Cookies also include brown sugar, an egg, butter and oatmeal. Raisins or chocolate chips can be added.

Though these cookies aren't offered in the cafeteria at Meadowcreek, students who know Drake entered the recipe competition have been asking to sample them.

Before starting her job at Meadowcreek this year, she worked at Norcross Elementary for 13 years. She's glad she made the move to the high school.

"These kids just welcomed me with open arms. I'm everybody's mama," Drake said.

She keeps an eye on the students and tries to make sure the busy teenagers are taking time to eat.

"If I can encourage them to eat something, to try something new, then I'm doing my job," Drake said.

Two other cafeteria workers represented Gwinnett County Public Schools at the recent state competition. Curley Nelson, a food assistant at Margaret Winn Holt Elementary in Lawrenceville, took top prize in the wheat-roll category at the district competition.

Michael McEvoy, the cafeteria manager at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, earned first place in the 4th district for his rice dish.

His Wild Rice Salad features wild rice, pecans, pears, celery and Craisins, and is tossed with a coleslaw dressing. The salad is served on a bed of tossed spinach.

"The flavors worked really well together," McEvoy said.

He has worked at Peachtree Ridge since the school opened in 2003. Since then, he's gotten to know the students.

"I walk down the hall and they say, 'Hey, lunchman,'" McEvoy said.

Each day at Peachtree Ridge, about 1,700 meals are served to students. McEvoy recognizes the importance of helping kids learn to make nutritious food choices.

"If they eat better, they study better and they learn better," McEvoy said.

Award-winning recipes

Stella Drake's Light Oatmeal Cookies

2 cups Bakery Mix

11⁄2 cups light brown sugar

1 cup mashed bananas

3 tablespoons vanilla extract

1 egg

1⁄4 pound margarine

4 cups uncooked old-fashioned oats

1 or 2 cups raisins or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine brown sugar, margarine and cream. Add beaten egg, vanilla and mashed banana. Mix well. Add oatmeal and bakery mix. Mix well.

Drop by rounded tablespoon or use a 2-ounce scoop to place dough onto baking sheets that have been sprayed with a cooking spray.

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool on baking sheet for 1 minute. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.

Michael McEvoy's Wild Rice Salad with Fruit and Nuts

3 cups cooked wild rice (3⁄4 cups uncooked)

Pinch of salt

1⁄2 cup diced celery

1⁄2 cup diced pear

1⁄2 cup broken pecans

1⁄2 cup Craisins

3 ounces coleslaw dressing

1 cup packed fresh baby spinach

Measure 3⁄4 cup wild rice into a pan. Add 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer and cook for 50 to 60 minutes, but no more than 60 minutes. Allow to cool with the lid on so that any remaining water will be absorbed. When cool, add salt.

With the wild rice in a bowl, add the celery, pear, pecans and half of the Craisins. Stir to combine thoroughly. Add the coleslaw dressing and stir to combine thoroughly.

Place the wild rice mixture in the center of a plate. Cut the spinach into ribbons and arrange around the wild rice salad. Garnish the top of the salad with the other half of the Craisins.