Los Angeles Student Chefs Channel their Culture for the Win

May 12, 2016 | Written By:

Cooking up Change competitions are happening all across the country, with winners heading to Washington, D.C., for the national finals on June 6. 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, but it also adds student voices to the national conversation about school food.

When thinking about what dish to make for the Cooking up Change Los Angeles competition, student chefs Tochtli, David and Jennifer wanted to bring together their culture and community into one dish. The result? A healthy Chicken Quesadilla.

“In my culture, eating quesadillas is very common, but usually they aren’t as healthy as you want them to be,” says Tochtli. “So we lowered the sodium and added healthy elements like fruit and lime juice.”

The team paired their quesadilla with Healthy Slaw with Cumin-Lime Dressing and Pineapple Downtown. And it’s that menu that impressed the judges. The team from Santee Education Complex took first place, and they will join teams from across the country in Washington, D.C., for the national finals.

The team developed an understanding of what it takes to create healthy school meals with a limited budget. “Originally, we were planning on doing the quesadilla with sweet potatoes, but that was too expensive,” Jennifer says. The team overcame budget and nutrition standards to create a delicious meal.

The contest also taught them more about their own eating habits. “Before I entered this competition, I used to eat a lot of junk food—chips and soda,” says Tochtli. “By doing this program, it made me realize all the unhealthy stuff I was putting in my body. Now, I eat more healthy, and I know how to cook healthy.”

This is the first trip for the three student chefs to Washington, D.C., and they all agree on what they’re looking forward to the most: “We’re looking forward to winning.”

We’re excited to see all the student chefs in Washington, D.C.. And congrats to Santee for their big win in Los Angeles. Here are all the teams that competed in Los Angeles Unified School District’s Cooking up Change competition:

Menu: Savory Penne with Chicken, Spinach and Cheese; Chopped Spring Green Salad; and Peach Crisp
Student Chefs: Jasmin and Nestor

Menu: The Fixin’s, Sweet Potato Nachos and Bananas Parfait
Student Chefs: Aaron, Amadi and David

James Monroe
Menu: Presto Pesto Pasta, Blazed Vegetables and Banana
Student Chefs: Kyle, Johnrey and Mohammed

Nathaniel Narbonne
Menu: Deconstructed Chicken Lettuce Wrap, Broccoli Cheese Sweet Potato Fries and Triple P Fruit Salad
Student Chefs: Daniele, Gerardo and Nathan

Menu: Chicken Diana, Garlic Steamed Broccoli and Vanilla Apple Parfait
Student Chefs: Diana,  Diana and Ramon

Menu: Chicken Quesadilla, Healthy Slaw with Cumin-Lime Dressing and Pineapple Downtown
Student Chefs: David. Jennifer and Tochtli

West Adams
Menu: Orange Chicken Broccoli and Rice, Chinese Cabbage and Carrots and Pineapple Delight
Student Chefs: Fath, Josue and Juanna

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