10-year-old Poulsbo chef’s recipe competing for $25k

POULSBO — Callie Matchem is only 10 years old, but she already has a running start toward a career in the culinary industry.

Callie and her mother, Jennifer, concocted a chicken sandwich inspired by Thai food and grandma’s cooking to become one of 10 finalists in a national recipe competition sponsored by Jif peanut butter. The contest calls for the use of peanut butter in an original sandwich, so Callie took a little of what she already knew and got creative.

“My sister works at this Thai place, so they have a grilled chicken on a stick with peanut sauce on the side, and I really like that,” Callie said. “And my nana makes this pineapple coleslaw, so we kind of changed it a little, and since the contest came up and I liked both of those, I kind of mixed it into a sandwich.”

The grand prize in the competition is a $25,000 scholarship fund, which Callie says she would like to use to attend culinary school at a Le Cordon Bleu location if she wins.

Jennifer, a waitress, restaurant manager and lover of all things gastronomic, came up with the idea to enter the contest last fall. She often saw advertisements on the Food Network for recipe contests, and decided to search the Internet for one that appealed to her.

“I Googled ‘cooking contests’ and never got past the Jif one that we found for kids,” Jennifer said.

She told Callie about the contest and the two set to work in the kitchen, brainstorming and testing new ideas. The result of their experimentations was the Big Sassy Chicken Satay. It’s a chicken breast marinated in peanut sauce (with a touch of sweet chili sauce), placed on a whole wheat bun and topped with Nana’s coleslaw and pineapple chunks. The buns get a little extra peanut butter spread for good measure.

“Callie and I have cooked a lot together, and she’s come up with quite a few of her own recipes, this being the newest,” Jennifer said. “I actually was going in a completely different direction. She came up with the idea with the chicken satay from the Thai restaurant.”

Callie prepares most of the sandwich on her own, but gets her mom’s help for grilling the chicken and toasting the buns, to be on the safe side.

“It’s a little too much heat for me, and I don’t want to get burned,” Callie said.

If the Big Sassy makes it out of the top 10 and into the final round of judging, the Matchems will fly to New York City in March to demonstrate how the sandwich is made and have the recipe judged one last time. But before that can happen, they need to receive votes from the public. Anyone at least 13 years old can vote to push the Big Sassy into the final round by visiting www.jif.com.

“She’s got a lot of support of course from family and everything,” Callie’s dad, Leo, said. “Up at the school, all the teachers and the principal, they’re all rooting and voting. It’s pretty awesome.”