After competing on the Food Network’s “Chopped Junior” last year, Eau Claire eighth-grader Castle Dettinger again found himself using limited resources to prepare a meal.

Except this time it wasn’t a competition or part of a TV show.

Castle and his dad, Jake Dettinger, volunteered Tuesday morning to cook a meal with about 40 students from Longfellow Elementary School and teach them the value of vegetables. The kids flocked to The Community Table, 320 Putnam St., to learn about — and taste — ingredients they may have never heard of before.

“With The Community Table, you don’t always know exactly what you’re going to do,” Castle said, noting that’s part of the fun. Behind him, dozens of kids carefully transported trays laden with hard-earned goodies to their tables. “You just have to rely on what people donate and what you have — you have to improvise a bit.”

What The Community Table, a soup kitchen that serves a free hot meal daily to people in need, did have was vegetables, and lots of them — the nonprofit receives fresh produce donations from local organizations such as the Eau Claire downtown farmers market. With that in mind, Castle and his dad created a cooking lesson with leafy greens and other colorful vegetables at the forefront.

By the end of the hourlong cooking class, students were filling their bellies with roasted vegetables and BLT sandwiches. To get there, however, they rotated through three stations that included identifying and learning about “mystery” vegetables, cooking and a vegetable-eating contest.

To make their meal, Castle estimated he and his dad used about 20 zucchinis and 10 pounds of carrots, as well as fresh parsley, bell peppers, kale and lettuce.

“I hope they learned that vegetables are really good,” Castle said, “and that they can incorporate them into every meal and really learn to love it.”

Jake said his son is particularly good at cooking veggies.

“Castle, I’ll tell you, is really great at roasted vegetables,” said Jake Dettinger, the general manager of Green Bakery in Colfax. “I’ve been in the food business my entire life. It’s impressive, for someone that has been a professional, to see him be able to put together roasted vegetables (so well).”

At the “mystery” vegetable tasting station, students were tasked with identifying pieces of veggies such as dragon tongue beans, purple kale, spearmint and kohlrabi.

Many students at that activity were stumped. When a teacher held up a piece of sliced kohlrabi, they guessed cauliflower and onion among other vegetables to no avail.

Tracy Thao, 10, eyed up her plate of mystery vegetables and was able to name many of them, although a few threw her off.

“I have trouble naming three,” she said with a laugh, and then proceeded to identify the ones she did know, “lettuce, spinach, mint, carrot, kale, cilantro.”

At the vegetable-eating contest station, students who overcame their fear of the unknown and tasted each vegetable available were rewarded with a pass to a water park.

Taking the “yuck” out of vegetables for kids by showing them how tasty they can be was an important selling point for Community Table organizers.

Marie Schug, volunteer coordinator at The Community Table, said the hope is to introduce kids to new, healthy foods.

“We don’t want children to be afraid of vegetables or not know what things are,” Schug said. “It’s really great to have them trying things they wouldn’t normally even know how to pronounce.”

Contact: 715-830-5828,, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter