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Culinary school 'Food Fight' raising money for Indianapolis food pantry

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Posted at 2:21 PM, Feb 09, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-09 17:29:02-05

GREENWOOD — Three young aspiring chefs are sharpening their skills to compete in a cooking competition that will raise money for an Indianapolis charity.

These culinary competitors are students at Central Nine Career Center in Greenwood and they are participating in the Westminster Neighborhood Services 2024 Food Fight, a cooking contest in which they will turn food pantry staples into a small plate of deliciousness.

"It's a competition that is with several different schools, high schools and Career Centers, kind of in the inner and outside circle of Indianapolis," culinary arts instructor Brian Mendenhall said.

Chef Brian Mendenhall teaches culinary students at Central Nine Career Center in Greenwood.

The competition is a loose riff on the popular Food Network show "Chopped."

Teams are given humble ingredients taken from the shelves of the neighborhood food pantry. This year, Mendenhall said the teams have been told their dishes must use two dried ingredients: spaghetti and split peas.

"So we are going to do a pasta dish, definitely," Mendenhall said. "We're going to incorporate split peas and fresh peas, I'll probably have some pork in there too. I don't want to give everything away but that is our game plan for right now."

The Central Nine students will compete against students in culinary programs at Ben Davis, Center Grove and North Central high schools.

Chef Brian Mendenhall teaches culinary students at Central Nine Career Center in Greenwood.

Judges grade the dishes and the winning teams earn scholarships to a culinary school and bragging rights. Guests will also vote on their favorites and that winner will be named "People's Choice."

C9 student Jackson Rouse said he's been in kitchens since he was a child and loves cooking and competing.

"We were constantly trying to learn new stuff and perfect our skills," Rouse said. "So anything that we learned in here, kind of just transfers over to wherever we go."

Joe Burgener, another C9 culinary student, said he's looking forward to a fun and rewarding competition.

"I just thought a fun little competition between like other schools, that might be really fun," Burgener said. "Plus, there's like, scholarship opportunities in it. It also promotes the food bank. All in all good."

A student fries tortilla chips at Central Nine Career Center in Greenwood.

The students in the Food Fight will feed about 200 people during Westminster Neighborhood Services's biggest annual fund raising event, Executive Director Chrissy Petersen said.

"All money raised from the Food Fight goes back into Westminster's programs," Petersen said. "Our food pantry. You know, we're serving roughly 200 families every week that come through and get one- to two-weeks worth of groceries."

Westminster also runs a soup kitchen and enrichment programs for elementary school-age children in a near-east side neighborhood that is challenged with high rates of poverty and crime.

"We use a lot of that money to purchase the food," Petersen said. "It goes back into our youth program. We feed our kids dinner every night. Not a snack. They get a full meal. And so we put our money right back into the programs."

Kai Colberg, 17, said taking part in the fundraiser gives him a chance to do something good while doing something he loves.

"I love food and I love helping people," Colberg said. "So you know, combining those and helping share food with other people is a great feeling."

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at or on X/Twitter: @vicryc.

Chef Brian Mendenhall teaches culinary students at Central Nine Career Center in Greenwood.

Westminster Neighborhood Services 2024 Food Fight

When: 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23.

Where: The Grand Hall at Westlake, 400 N. High School Road, Indianapolis.

Tickets: $50.