Meet Jacksonville’s Winning Student Chefs!

May 09, 2014

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 healthful and delicious school meal that can be served in a school cafeteria. Cooking up Change is not only fun and educational, it also adds student voices to the national conversation about school food. Here’s a profile of one winning team.

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Some of life’s most delicious surprises aren’t planned — just ask the Cooking up Change winners from Jacksonville, Fla. Their crowd-pleasing side dish of grilled pineapple yogurt shortcake was a spur-of-the-moment sensation.

“One day my teammate Rosalia just threw apples on the stove,” winning team member Bria P. said, “and it turned out to be a huge hit.” This improvisation sparked the idea for taking ordinary fruit and adding a little flame.

“We decided to use pineapple because when you cook it, the natural flavors come out,” said Bria.

The main dish, a Thai chicken wrap, and the spinach and carrot slaw, were also big favorites with the judges. “We were trying to base something off of Asian culture,” said Bria. Brandon took the lead on prepping the spinach and carrot slaw, which they invented from scratch.

This was Bria and Brandon’s second Cooking up Change win, out of the four times that Jacksonville has competed. Bria believes that the team’s close-knit, cooperative dynamic was critical to their success. “We made sure to keep each other positive and remind each other that we got this,” she said.

For Rosalia, who who joined the team this year and made it a trio, the roots of her success go way back to childhood. She said, “A lot of people in my family have a passion for food. My uncle was a chef, and my aunt bakes for a living. I’ve always loved cooking. I remember making cakes when I was about seven or eight years old.”

For her, it’s one step on her path to cooking professionally. “I’ve always said I wanted to be a chef or have my own bakery. The win makes me more excited to go along with my plans. Cooking is my first love.”

But despite the winning results, the journey wasn’t always easy. Bria said, “Creating a meal that would satisfy the tastebuds of students that I go to school with? It was a lot of mixing and matching, figuring out what was and wasn’t working.”

Cooking up Change is one way that Healthy Schools Campaign puts student voices at the forefront of the national dialogue on school food. Winning teams travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers and have their meal served in the Congressional cafeteria. It’s an experience that Bria remembers vividly from last year. She said, “It was kind of scary, being a student and meeting people who have high-end jobs like that…”

But she’s looking forward to returning to D.C. for another shot at winning the national finals. “Now that I know the basics, I hope I have an advantage,” she said. It’s not just her team’s voices in the mix, she said: “The food speaks for itself.”

Rosalia said, “If all school lunches were like [ours], I’d probably eat lunch every day.”

Students all over the district can taste-test the meal for themselves! It will be served to more than 90,000 students next year.

Special thanks to Jacksonville’s local host Chartwells-Thompson Hospitality!

Congratulations to Brandon A., Rosalia M. and Bria P. from Sandalwood High School. We look forward to seeing you all in D.C.

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