Ruth Grisanti describes her son Mathew's culinary aspirations.

"Since he was little he said he wanted to be the cooker man," says the Concord resident.

And there's just something about grandma's special recipes and having a chance to cook together.

For Matthew, 9, it's her baked pear, minus the blue cheese crumble.

"Anything my grandmother gives me is special," said the fourth-grader at Westwood Elementary School in Concord.

Emma Dell, 9, has a host of happy memories of concocting new recipes with her grandmother, with the homemade chocolate whipped cream and berries that top their brownies as a favorite.

"We put a lot of time into it. A lot of people have tried them and said they were really good," says the Westwood fourth-grader.

And now these children, who are followers of such shows as "Iron Chef" and "Chopped," are taking their chosen creations to a new performance level.

Four culinary teams of fourth- and fifth-graders in the Mt. Diablo Unified School District will don crisp white chef jackets as they compete in the first annual Kids Cook Off competition Nov. 7, in the Concord High School cafeteria.

The other participating schools are Gregory Gardens in Pleasant Hill, Bancroft in Walnut Creek, and Mt. Diablo in Clayton.

Their recipes, that must be cooked and plated within 90 minutes, will be judged based on taste, presentation, nutrition and the most kid-friendly entry.

"We're looking for different ways to get kids involved in wellness and nutrition, to have a greater awareness of what food is all about," says Tim Watson-Williams, a nutrition services supervisor with the district.

Gabby Schneider's entry is chicken curry and rice.

"It's been a family recipe for a while," says the 9-year-old Bancroft student. "I've had a desire to cook since I was pretty young. You get to smell the lovely smells while you're cooking; you get to eat it; and if you're cooking for someone else, they'll probably enjoy it, or you'll learn from your mistakes."

Gabby's friend Samia Lebne, also from Bancroft, is bringing her Arabic yogurt-based dip to the contest.

"I make it a lot. Kids love to eat it," Samia says. "I am feeling a little nervous. I want to make it perfect."

The students will be well coached by chefs from local restaurants mentoring each team.

"My role is to teach them about food and ways to prepare it for a large group," says Damian De La Rosa of Harvest Market in Walnut Creek. "You can make ordinary food sing ... Just because it's not fries doesn't mean it doesn't have flavor."

Chefs from other participating restaurants include: Fiore in Concord; Jack's Bistro in Pleasant Hill; and Moresi's Chophouse in Clayton.

"All the kids need to bring is a smile and be ready to work as a team," Watson-Williams says.

Meanwhile, Linda Schuler, the principal at Bancroft Elementary in Walnut Creek, added that the upcoming competition closely follows an all-school assembly where children became well-versed in reading food labels, learning portion control, the importance of whole grain, opting for water over soda, and the essential intake of five fruits and vegetables each day.

"This event coincides with the idea that if kids follow food from the ground to the plate, they'll be more likely to eat fruits and vegetables," says Watson-Williams.

Kid friendly cooking
WHAT: Kids Cook Off awards ceremony
WHEN: 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7 (Students start cooking at 2:45 p.m.)
WHERE: Concord High School Cafeteria, 4200 Concord Blvd.