Meet Culinary Arts Instructor Frederick Monroe of the Washington, D.C. Cooking up Change Team

May 12, 2011

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Healthy Schools Campaign was able to catch up with culinary arts instructor Frederick Monroe as he assisted his Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School students, winners of our online Cooking up Change competition, in preparing for the Cooking up Change finals less two weeks away. For three years, Monroe has worked with sophomores, juniors, and seniors. He is absolutely passionate about his students and the program. He mentioned how his class encourages students to finish school and consider culinary arts as a career path.

The D.C. school actually had two teams submit recipes, which caused some friendly competition in the classroom! When he found out the winning team would move on to the final round, he was with a student team competing in another cooking competition in Paris! 

Will the Washington D.C. team have the hometown advantage? We’ll see on May 23 as they compete against students from Chicago, Denver, Winston-Salem, Jacksonville, and St. Louis. 

You’ve already competed against aspiring chefs from all over the country through the online contest. Are you excited for the final round?

I am! I think it is exposure and generates interest in healthy cooking. The winning team has never competed and this competition made them work on team-building and showed them that they can have the same foods, quick and fast, but it doesn’t have to be fried all the time.

Are you nervous to present your dish in person?

No — I think they have a lot of heart, so they are going to do the best they could possibly do. 

How did you get involved with the Cooking up Change competition?

The school lunch program approached us, but the kids made the decision to do it. If we didn’t have the support of the school lunch program, we would have never found out about this competition. They were very instrumental in submitting menus, coming over, and talking to the kids. They were instrumental in helping the kids find their voice!

What does it take to encourage people to make healthy food choices?

It is important to take away but mimic flavors while adding nutritional value. If we can mirror what they are eating at home and in carry-outs then we can offer them food options that have the same flavors. Our kids need to feel that it can taste good without the extra sugar and oils. Kids usually go for that.

What did your team learn while participating in the Cooking up Change competition?

They learned that it takes a team; it’s not a one-person effort. They understand each other better, they learned to seek out each other’s strengths and try to help out one another’s weaknesses for balance. I want them to be passionate about it and do well. They now understand the importance of working together as a team. The team building aspect is really important because they have to lean on each other. No matter what, they are still winners.

What inspired your students to create this dish?

Within our school, we did surveys in my classes. We asked what types foods they would like to have on the lunch menu and what they would like us to duplicate. They indicated they love carry-out, or fast food. That’s how they came up with their dish, by replicating the flavors in fast food.

They wanted something that tasted good. As I looked at the recipes, I saw that they wanted to put sugar in everything. They love that sweet and sour balance with that Asian chicken fusion. They wanted a flavorful dish similar to what they were used to, but with an added twist.

What are some of the nutritional benefits of your dish versus its traditional counterpart?

They wanted to make a difference in the caloric intake and nutritional value. There are less grams of fat. Overall, the kids wanted the same flavor by maintaining the integrity of the food so others would enjoy it.

How is your team preparing for the national contest?

Practice! I tell them to bring all of their skills. I’ve given them a rigorous practice schedule. I want them to think outside the box. Everything they’re doing will carry over. 

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We are grateful to Fred Monroe for sharing his perspective on healthy eating and Cooking up Change!  

Good luck to all the student teams!