Houston Takes First in the 2015 Cooking up Change National Finals

June 10, 2015

It’s official, Cooking up Change 2015 has a national winner. Congratulations to Houston! The team’s meal of Cowboy Cajun Chicken Lollipop, Twisted Texas Cabbage and Collard Greens, and Pineapple Tart took the top prize from our panel of prestigious judges on Monday.

It was a day to remember — and one that involved a couple special VIP appearances. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wished students well right as they started cooking. Debra Eschmeyer, executive director of Let’s Move! and senior White House nutrition policy advisor, joined us to congratulate the students and crown the national champion at the reception.

Jose A., Jalien N. and Briseida S. from Houston’s Westside High School wowed judges with their spicy menu. Judge Margot Brown, director of the U.S. EPA Office of Children’s Health Protection, Program Implementation and Coordination Division, asked the student chefs how their peers responded to the food. “They loved it,” they said.

The students said sticking to the nutritional requirements — especially no added salt — was challenging, but they found that by adding Cajun seasoning to the chicken, they didn’t need added salt to make it delicious. “We learned that trying to create a healthy dish is difficult and challenging, but we found it is possible to do it while being delicious at the same time,” said Jose. (Learn more about Houston’s journey to the national finals.)

Meals were judged on their originality, taste, texture and appearance. Teams scored additional points for the quality of their presentation to the judging panel. Rounding out the top three national place winners were Orange County (CA) in second place, with their menu of  Mexican Chicken Street Tacos, Motherland Esquite and Peachin’ Empanada; and Chicago finished third with their menu of Haitian Spice Chicken, Slamming Collard Greens and Pineapple Surprise Parfait.

In the end, each team was a winner, having earned their way to the national finals by winning their local competition, and having demonstrated the hard work and skill it takes to create healthy and delicious school meals on a tight budget.

Beyond being talented chefs, the students’ message about the importance of healthy school food — which they had the opportunity to voice on Capitol Hill at a House briefing and Senate tasting event — is especially important this year as the Child Nutrition Act is currently up for reauthorization. When so much of what we hear — and what Congress hears — about school food focuses on what we can’t do, Cooking up Change and the incredible student chefs involved in the program focus on what we can do.

As anyone who was involved with Cooking up Change can attest — from the students, to the judges, to the mentors and guests — school meals can indeed be nutritious and delicious.