Meet Orange County’s Winning Student Chefs!

June 04, 2014

Defending the national title for two years in a row

Cooking up Change competitions are happening all across the country this spring, with winners heading to Washington, D.C., for the national finals on June 9! 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.

Orange County’s winning student chefs aren’t just local champs — they’re now defending the national title for their high school, for the second year in a row! This year’s team of Valley High champions is Lily, Gustavo and Josue, and they won big points with their meal of a Kickin' Taco, Zesta Fiesta Salad and Yummy Tummy Bananas. Now the team is headed to D.C., attempting a three-peat for Valley High.

Gustavo says their team succeeded in the local competition, which was hosted by Kid Healthy, because they’re not just three chefs. They’re a unit. “We really work as one,” he said.

Yet they also brought their own strengths to the competition. Gustavo worked hard on the main dish, a fish taco with cabbage slaw. “We wanted to do something that we were familiar with, that was our heritage,” he said.

Although the original vision included a filet, it wasn’t on the ingredient list. But that didn’t stop this team. Their innovative solution? A fish stick.

“I think we stand out because of our creativity,” Gustavo said. “We’re always trying new things, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and not being afraid of failure.”

Josue focused on the dessert, which is a banana dipped in yogurt, then rolled with granola and frozen. It’s infused with cinnamon and ginger for an extra pop of flavor.

He’s in the kitchen at school but his mind is never far from home. “My inspiration is my mom,” he said. “Ever since she got cancer, I decided to start cooking healthy for her, so she can hopefully not have any more problems.”

Josue agrees that the team feels like it’s headed for success. First, they’re supported by an incredible team of mentors at the school and in the broader community. Beyond that, he said, “We’re always on top of everything… We work as a team no matter what.”

Lily created the side dish, which is a corn and bean salad infused with cumin and lime. While her region inspired the flavors, her career path inspires her passion for health. “I want to be a sociologist,” she said. “I’m joining this competition to help other people be healthy. The whole community.”

The broader community is already feeling the impact of Valley High’s Cooking up Change wins. This year’s meal was recently served for the school board, and Valley High’s winning meal last year has already been served across the district. The team has also met with school-food decision makers in the district.

Gustavo summed up the competition’s wider impact: “[School food] is not just an issue for us, but for the people in charge.”