Meet the Winning Student Chefs in Orlando!

May 16, 2014 | Written By:

A winning empanada!

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.


At Orlando’s first Cooking up Change competition, the winning student chefs bet on the sure-fire appeal of a spicy kick. Said team member Matheus D., “A lot of people in my school love spicy food and love chipotle. So we said, let’s do something that they’re gonna like.”

The three-member team from West Side Tech took first place with its delicious, nutritious meal of an empanada, “Tex Mex Fries” and fruit salad.

Originally, said Matheus, the vision was a little more complex. “We were going to do an ‘empa-zone,’” he said, explaining that it would have been a hybrid of a calzone and an empanada.

The winning concept ditched the calzone aspect, allowing them to make the dish even healthier. “It’s less about cheese and bread,” said team member Ny-Lene M.

Most importantly, their winning empanada is a healthy yet filling midday meal. Said team member Anfernee A., “ A lot of kids don’t actually eat food when they get home. Their lunch is their food for the day sometimes. If our meal can add more food to their daily life, that’s better.” He noted that hungry kids aren’t likely to make for great students. “Kids have attitudes when they’re hungry and haven’t eaten.”

All three team members are deeply invested in the mission of creating healthy food for their peers. “My grandmother used to cook a lot when I was younger and she raised me along with my mom,” said Ny-Lene. “I’ve been around food most of my whole life, and I recently found out that I love cooking and culinary.”

Anfernee said, “I’m a very healthy eater… It makes me angry that so many kids are addicted to soda and candy, and this competition can actually do something.” Plus, he said, “If you learn to cook good, you can eat good forever.”

Why is it so important for student voices to be involved in school food? “We have an advantage over a renowned chef who isn’t in the schoolyard every day,” Anfernee said. And he believes healthy eating couldn’t be more critical for his generation. Obesity and Type 2 diabetes are real risks, “Kids don’t think about the long-term,” he said.

In June, the team brings its spicy dish and passion for healthy food to D.C., where it will join nine other teams from around the country at Cooking up Change national finals. Matheus said he can’t wait — especially because it means making his voice heard. He said, “ I’m gonna make sure that they remember me when they go to make laws. I’m gonna make sure that they remember what I have to say.”

Congratulations to Matheus D., Anfernee A. and Ny-Lene M.! We look forward to seeing you all in D.C. Read about all winning teams here. 

Special thanks to Orlando’s local host Orange County Public Schools!

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