Congratulations to the Winning Student Chefs in L.A.!

March 28, 2014

Congratulations to the Winning Student Chefs in L.A.!

Cooking up Change competitions are happening all across the country this spring, with winners heading to Washington, D.C., for the national finals in June. HSC’s Cooking up Change contest challenges high school culinary students to create a healthy and delicious school meal that can be served in a school cafeteria. Cooking up Change is not only fun and educational, it adds student voices to the national conversation about school food. Here’s a profile of one winning team.

Jenifer M. and Kimberly S. have been best friends for years — but Cooking up Change Los Angeles marked the first time they became winning teammates. On January 30, Jenifer and Kimberly represented Manual Arts High School in the competition against teams from eight other L.A. high schools and wowed the judging panel with their dish of barbecue chicken flatbread, tropical “C” burst fruit and spicy bean dip with a side of broccoli.

For both young chefs, this is their first year in a culinary program. Encouraged by their instructor, they competed first for the chance to represent their school at Cooking up Change L.A. Now they are preparing to compete against nine other winning teams in June when they travel to the national finals in Washington, D.C.

“We tried to be calm about it,” Jenifer says. “The only thing that distracted us was a camera crew.” Still, she says, with so many other well-prepared schools at the competition, “I really didn’t expect us to win.” (The team is no longer camera-shy; click here to see one of their live news segments.)

Jenifer, a senior, says the program has inspired her — she’s thinking about majoring in social work in college, but she may want to consider culinary arts. “If I can make it to a national competition, I know I can make it through,” she says.

Her family has been affected by the win, too. “My mom is a single mom, and she’s really very proud of me,” Jenifer says. “She admires my work and thinks that I will make it far.”

Although her mother has always encouraged healthy eating, they’ve stepped it up since Jenifer began preparing for Cooking up Change. “We don’t eat fast food as much,” she says. It’s impacted her 13-year-old brother, too: “He has always wanted to be a chef, even as a little boy growing up. But I think I have influenced him to cook healthy.”

All kids need a healthy diet, Jenifer says. Healthy food “helps you concentrate a lot. I try to at least take some fruit to school because when I do get hungry, I have a tendency to get mad easily and just give up on my school work. Healthy food helps you stay on task and keep going.”

And, she explains, healthy food has to taste good or students won’t eat it.

No one knows this better than David Binkle, director of food services at Los Angeles Unified School District. Mr. Binkle brought Cooking up Change to Los Angeles for the first time last year. “Cooking up Change is an amazing program that empowers Los Angeles Unified students to become a part of the conversation when it comes to healthy meals,” he says. “Not only does the program encourage students to eat healthier, it gives them the opportunity to see the country, meet peers from other states and builds their self-confidence.”

The team will get to see their inspiring meal served to 650,000 students across their school district during the 2014-2015 school year. In the meantime, Jenifer and Kimberly are off to the nation’s capital to compete against their winning counterparts from Cooking up Change contests across the country.

Read about all the 2013-14 Cooking up Change winners.