COSTA MESA — As a dramatic soundtrack played, Killybrooke Elementary School students chopped, stirred and cooked healthy gastronomic masterpieces using the secret ingredient — tomatoes — in hopes of beating out the competition.
Team Food Revolution made chili and served it in a hollowed red bell pepper with chili-pepper corn muffins.
But it was Team Veggie Monsters that took the top honor by only two points with a whole-grain pasta, marinara sauce and bruschetta for Killybrooke's "Iron Chef"-inspired cooking competition Monday in the school's multipurpose room.
"It was great," said sixth-grader Eli Lemna, 12, on winning. "I thought it was going to be real close — and it was."
Fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders watched two teams of nine compete. Students created an original dish — evaluated on appearance, taste and creativity — with the help of adult mentors from the Newport-Mesa Unified's nutrition services department. The mentors also served as the three-judge panel.
The idea for the event came from Geoff Ianniello, the district's nutrition services operations manager for Network for a Healthy California, who's also an avid fan of the reality television show.
"I thought it would be a fun thing to duplicate the excitement of 'Iron Chef' with fruits and vegetables," he said.
The competition stayed true to the show. "Commercial breaks" extolled the virtue of tomatoes.
The fruit helps prevent cancer, comes in different shapes and colors and is chock-full of different vitamins, said nutritionist Pam Williams.
"The vitamins in a tomato read like the alphabet," she said.
Michelle Pham, 10, who competed for Team Food Revolution, said she likes to cook at home, especially when making Vietnamese food with her mom.
The fifth-grader said the best part of cooking is dicing and cutting vegetables.
"I like to see how the insides of veggies look," she said.
Parent Diane Beazley, whose daughter Sophie, 11, competed for Team Food Revolution, said Sophie wrote in her application essay that she wanted to participate because she doesn't want to be a picky eater.
The different events the Network for a Healthy California produces, such as cooking classes and trying new fruits and vegetables every month, have broadened Sophie and her younger sister's horizons.
"It's really opened up their palate to try new things," Beazley said.