Looking Back: Arizona Chef Instructor Mary Paganelli on Winning Cooking up Change 2010

July 14, 2011

by Brittany Wright

We were excited to speak with chef instructor Mary Paganelli recently and get updates on the 2010 Cooking up Change winners, the students of the Tohono O'odham Community Action Cooking Club. The team won HSC’s healthy cooking competition with their culturally-inspired dish of tepary bean quesadillas, baby spinach and pear salad with carrot vinaigrette, and yogurt peanut butter fruit dip.

The student chefs’ culture was an integral part of their dish. “One of the reasons we wanted to participate was to promote that your traditional foods wherever you’re from or whoever you are culturally is important. It is really important to incorporate local, but traditional food into your diet,” said Paganelli.

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 Student chefs Yvette Ventura, Ross R. Miguel, Zade Arnold with chef instructor Mary Paganelli

The Tohono O'odham Community Action Cooking Club chef instructor remembers her students’ reaction to winning the Cooking up Change competition: “They worked really, really hard and attentively and I don’t think they ever thought about winning. They just wanted to do a really good job representing their nation. I think they were incredibly surprised and thrilled.” 

The student chefs graduated and went on to college, where they continue to encourage healthy eating among their community, peers, and family. Since taking top honors, the students took part in a number of cooking demonstrations, cultural events, and speaking engagements at schools. 

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TheArizona team's winning dish being served at the Cooking up Change 2010 national finals in Detroit

The Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest not only provides an opportunity to showcase the talents of student chefs across the country, but also provides exposure to new experiences. Paganelli observed how the teams became fast friends with other teens who shared the same interest in healthy foods. They even hosted students from other teams to experience life in the Tohono O'odham community. 

Paganelli lauded the Tohono O'odham community’s support and pride in the trio. The talent and passion demonstrated by the Arizona team provided a spotlight on their culture and exposure to local traditional foods. She remarked on “the amount of support they have from their community and family and what a great opportunity it was to showcase traditional foods that I think many people weren’t familiar with, foods  that formed such an important part of Tohono O'odham culture.”

Paganelli advises aspiring chefs to take every opportunity to gain experience and learn about the different careers in the field. “There are a tremendous number of opportunities in the culinary world that are not just about being a cook or a chef. There are many paths you can take, but to get started on that path you have to take the first step,” she said. 

We are so proud that the Arizona team continues to carry the message of healthy eating on to their families and community! Many thanks to Mary Paganelli for taking the time to chat about the team's experience. You can learn more about last year’s Cooking up Change winners and their inspiration for their dish here

Plus: Read about this year’s winning team and competition. 

Bonus: Try the Tepary bean quesadillas yourself! Check out the Arizona team’s winning recipe.