Meet St. Louis’ Nutrition Advocate: Chef Instructor Joe Wilson

April 27, 2011 | Written By:

We recently spoke with Joe Wilson, a Chef Instructor at Clyde C. Miller Career Academy in St. Louis. For three years, Wilson has taught aspiring chefs about the culinary arts and food science. He, along with administrators, encouraged his students to enter the St. Louis Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest, which two students won with their upside-down taco salad! No strangers to competition, Wilson’s students also recently won a county-wide cook-off. The “Show Me” state natives will travel to Washington D.C. next month to showcase their dish against five other teams from across the country at the Cooking up Change national finals.


Student chef prepares for Cooking up Change St. Louis

How did you become interested in the culinary arts? What inspired you to work with aspiring chefs?

Well, I started as a busboy when I was 16 years old and moved into the kitchen when some of the other cooks went away to college. I’ve been cooking ever since. My father was in the food business; he was more front-of-the-house, but I got a chance to see a lot of fine dining when I was younger. It just made sense to me at 16 years old; I knew I’d always have a job if I knew how to cook. It’s more of an art form, it’s not sitting behind a desk, and it seemed interesting. Working with young chefs was more of a recent decision. I’ve managed people ever since I obtained my associate’s degree in culinary arts and after working all these years, I thought maybe I could make a difference by giving them a better track to run on.

What do you believe is most effective in encouraging people to make healthy food choices?

It’s the way of the future; everything is going to make us lean toward that lifestyle. It is something that has to happen. 

What made you and your students want to participate in Cooking up Change?

There is a nutrition chapter that I cover with my year one students and juniors. The contest is a lot more fun than doing homework out of a book! I thought this would be a great opportunity to work on our nutrition chapter and get some competition experience. As a career technical school, we’re expected to compete one way or another. It sounded like fun, so we got into it.

What do you want your students to learn from participating in Cooking up Change?

They need all the competition practice they can get. You can read out of a book, but you’re not learning until you’re under pressure and have to do it. Cooking up Change has opened up their eyes to alternative recipes and cooking methods. They see all things you can do to make food taste good and be good for you.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcoming in preparing your winning meal?

Getting the recipes to fit the parameters. I remember one recipe attempt didn’t have enough calories, but had too many calories from fat! 

What advice are you giving your students as they prepare for the national contest in DC?

Practice! Practice alongside presentation. As chefs, we realize this stuff has to look good too! I recommend they try to play with it, make it look better.

What inspired your students to create the upside-down taco salad that won first place in St. Louis?

Soggy chips! They thought if you put the meat and soggy ingredients down first, you could pile everything on top and by the time you get to your seat, the chips would remain crispy. They wanted this dish to be something familiar to them and to a high school student. 

What are some of the nutritional benefits of your winning dish versus a traditional taco salad?

Looking at the recipe, they added mozzarella and low-fat cheese. The ground beef is also low-fat. The dish also incorporates a lot of the different food groups. It’s already a meal within itself.

Many thanks to Joe Wilson for sharing his perspective on healthy eating and Cooking up Change!  

Plus: You can read more about the St. Louis team here!



Student chefs in the kitchen during the Cooking up Change St. Louis contest

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