Article Courtesy: Do South Magazine

When Ashleigh Smith first joined the Research Institute Health & Wellness Center (RIHWC) of Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) in January, she brought along a zest for culinary creativity and profound nutrition knowledge. This summer, she’s set to channel both passions into an event that promises to be as educational as it is delicious: the first-ever Culinary Kid cooking competition.

The RIHWC’s state-of-the-art kitchen will transform into a vibrant arena of youthful energy and innovative cooking as kids aged 8-12 compete for the top junior chef title. Overseen by Ashleigh Smith, a Le Cordon Bleu St. Louis graduate with a master’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Eastern Illinois University, the competition underscores her commitment to nurturing healthy habits in the community.

Ashleigh, who also serves as a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES), is known for her dynamic approach to nutrition education. From teaching Diabetes Education and Sugar-Free Baking to leading the Edible Art series in collaboration with the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum, she is an example of culinary wisdom and creativity. This competition is one of the many ways she brings her expertise to the forefront.

The competition heats up:

The Culinary Kid cooking competition kicks off with preliminary rounds August 5-9, where young chefs can impress a panel of judges, including local fine dining chefs and the Mayor of Fort Smith, the Honorable George McGill. The excitement will culminate in the final rounds from August 12-16, narrowing the field to seven finalists. Dishes will be judged not only on taste and presentation but also on the healthfulness and nutritional value — core values that Ashleigh promotes.

Local businesses such as First National Bank, Harps Food Stores, Yeager’s Hardware, Anders Group, and Geno’s Pizza generously support the event. These sponsors reflect the community’s commitment to fostering a healthier, more informed younger generation. The grand prize of $500, sponsored by First National Bank of Fort Smith, is a significant incentive for budding chefs.

Join the Culinary Revolution:

For those eager to participate or to support this event, the RIHWC invites submissions of signature recipes from young chefs by August 1, 2024. Aspiring participants can email Ashleigh at ashleigh.smith@achehealth.edu. Sponsorship inquiries may be directed to wellness@achehealth.edu.

The cooking competition is more than just a contest; it’s a celebration of health, community, and the joy of cooking. As Ashleigh puts it, “We’re not just teaching kids to cook; we’re empowering them with the knowledge to make healthier choices for a lifetime.”

For more details about upcoming community classes at the RIHWC, CLICK HERE.