10 and under winner
Nut the squirrel yawned in his tiny tree house. A fine day was waking up outside, when he heard the Palace soldiers approach his home.
“Good day” chorused the soldiers, “We have post from her Royal Highness.” They gave an envelope to Nut and disappeared into the forest.
I have appointed you as the chief snack provider for my coronation tomorrow. Please provide hazelnuts for 300 hungry people.
Nut got dressed. He had a busy day ahead of him. He went straight to the forest to seek the hazelnuts.
Meanwhile in the palace attic, a girl called Ella was crying, for she was outstanding at baking, though so poor that she could only be a pot washer to the queens’ Chef Stefano. He was a very cruel and harsh man and never let Ella bake. But with the coronation fast approaching, Stefano gave Ella a job; to make and deliver delicious chocolate icing for the cake.
Both Ella and Nut were rushing to the Palace to deliver their food. In her haste, Ella tripped over the little squirrel. The icing and hazelnuts flew into the air, landing on Royal Charlotte´s face. The palace went silent. Everybody was waiting for the Queen to be´s reaction. She licked her lips. “It´s simply delicious!” She giggled. Everyone cheered.
She appointed Ella and Nut to become the Royal Chefs and cruel Stefano was fired. They called the incredible chocolatey mixture on Charlotte´s face NUTELLA.
11 - 14 winner
A spicy aroma tingled my nose as I walked down the stairs. The smell lured me into the kitchen. Pots and pans filled to the brim with food crackled and hissed like mini fireworks, watched carefully by my grandmother. Ladles scraped against the base of the pots. The pressure cooker whistled like a steam train. Warm air filled the room as if I was basking in the sun. On the kitchen island there was a rainbow of spices in tins matching the rangoli patterns on the doorstep of our house. It was Diwali.
Starters were already laid out. Pistachios hid in their shells like anxious tortoises. Coriander and desiccated coconut clung to the diamond shaped dhokla on the windowsill. Vivid green bowls of chutney were placed beside the dhokla. Crispy piping hot onion bhajees were stacked high.
Our main course was a delicious paneer curry. Making the paneer was like a science experiment. We added lemon juice to boiling milk and watched it curdle to make cheese pieces. It looked like a witch’s cauldron. Now the paneer had magically been turned into a curry and gave off the smell of fiery ginger, which drifted round the room with a vivacious enthusiasm. There was a side dish of spicy potatoes speckled with mustard seeds like little dice. This was to be served together with puris that have puffed up like jellyfish, fluffy white rice and bowls of glistening sunset orange mango pulp.
Of all the scrumptious Diwali foods chocolate barfi is my favourite. To make the chocolate barfi we scrunched up biscuits. They snapped in my hands and crumbled into tiny pieces becoming soft and powdery before we added the chopped nuts. We melted butter in a pan and watched it foam. It gleamed in the rays of sunlight. When I added the cocoa powder it were as if the night sky had engulfed the sun. As we poured the syrup into the nuts the smell reminded nutella. For the topping I melted the luscious chocolate, which oozed in the bowl. I couldn’t stop myself from “testing” it, which warmed my mouth. The luxurious chocolate swirled past my tongue and coated my throat. We built the barfi squares into a tower waiting to be demolished (by me).
Excited chatter and laughter spread through the room. The feasting had begun. The plates of starters were polished clean. My grandmother carefully put out the cauldron of paneer, which was nearly knocked out of her hands by my baby cousin. Hands all reached for food, ladling out the paneer and sharing out the puri leaving our neat work in crumbs. Now for my favourite part, dessert. The barfi crumbled in my hands. I made my way through three squares. My taste buds burst with the extravagant flavours, just as the fireworks started to explode outside.
15 - 18 winner
Determination is a word not often applied to food. Strength, perhaps. Staying power? In terms of slow-releasing carbohydrates, maybe. But determination? That is something unheard of. Perhaps it’s not a concept that should be applied to food itself, but to the people preparing, selling and eating it; to those who can’t afford it; and to those who fight adversity, all for a taste of fame, fortune, or even just the food itself.
A few years ago, food turned into a weapon against me: World War Pea, if you like, or the Wars of the Roses Chocolates. Suddenly, every bite felt toxic. Those around me took to snapping at me for it. “You don’t eat enough.” “Do you hate food or something?” or my personal favourite, “Just eat it.” They couldn’t see that food was not the enemy, but a shield in between me and the black cloud looming on the other side - a civilian, caught up in the conflict between my rational and irrational thoughts.
It was never about the food. It was about the cortisol on standby wiring my mouth shut, the fight-or-flight that turned my stomach, that sick feeling that comes with constant anxiety – something had to give, and somehow food volunteered itself as tribute. No wonder the baby aeroplane trick, employed by a friend trying to force-feed me, didn’t work. What aeroplane wants to land in a warzone? A spoon with any sense would make a sharp about-turn and make an emergency landing back in the bowl. When I told another friend that I couldn’t eat the strawberry she was waving in front of me, we shared a profound moment – the strawberry and I, that is. My friend left the room, declaring that she didn’t want to be associated with someone who wouldn’t eat. I was left sitting on the floor, staring at the strawberry which was red and rough, like my dry tongue. How had they got me so wrong? The same people who had warned me about the calories in my cashew nuts were now pushing me away because as they saw it, I had agreed with them – but I hadn’t. How could I explain to them that I could quite happily leaf through food magazines, practically licking the pages, trying to inhale the calories I so wanted but couldn’t physically eat? That this was more painful for me than it was for them to watch? I not only had to fight with myself, but also with them to get them to believe that I didn’t want this any more than they did - I love food and always have, and this was torture to me.
This is where determination comes into play. While I had the opposite mentality of someone who longed to ignore food, I wanted nothing more than to be able to eat, but every cell in my body squirmed with anxiety when I came close enough to putting anything other than a glucose tablet in my mouth. It was after days of eating nothing but custard creams that I came to my epiphany: I had to force myself. It would be hard, I would feel sick: but I wanted to go back to loving food as much as I always had.
So, I attempted to stir my thoughts together. I read side effects leaflets like recipe books. I dusted my black cloud with flour until it paled then kneaded it in therapy, pummelling every last bit of hot air out of it. I try to knock it back if it rises again. The difference now is that I can feed it with what I want, and not the nothingness it craves: not with the empty energy of Lucozade, but with anything my heart desires. To have to fight an irrational coping mechanism with something you love is never easy, but now I know when to turn down the heat on bubbling thoughts and replace them with a warm cup of tea instead. I can flip through a cookery book again as though it were a self-help guide. More and more, my friends are realising that harsh words will never work on me as well as a hug and a chocolate bar. Determination for me is a cheesy cliché: like a sourdough starter, I had to put more work in before I got any results out. But finally, food and I are back on the same side, and that, for me, is definitely something worth celebrating.