Valley High School Wins Cooking up Change in Orange County for Second Year in a Row!

April 25, 2013

Although plenty of student chefs from around Orange County were up to the challenge of besting Valley High School, home of the reigning Cooking up Change champs, it was once again a Valley team that sliced, diced and chopped its way to victory.

When your high school is home to the national Cooking up Change titleholders, you’d better believe there’s some pressure. Although plenty of student chefs from around Orange County were up to the challenge of besting Valley High School, home of the reigning Cooking up Change champs, it was once again a Valley team that sliced, diced and chopped its way to victory — winning the regional Orange County Cooking up Change competition for a second year.

Cesar Amezcua, Cecilia Magana and Carlos Ortiz, culinary students from Valley (home of the mighty Falcons), were the winning team this year. Their meal, “Pita Packs a Punch,” is served with Hot and Sweet Slaw and Delicious Apple Crepes. A delectable-sounding pita, it contains ground turkey sautéed with taco seasoning and salsa, plus cucumber, tomato, lettuce and cheese on top of the pita.

“We wanted to combine healthy ingredients and see what we could come up with,” Ortiz says. “A pita was something that you don’t see much. We wanted a dish that would catch people’s eyes, be healthy and taste great.”

The rest of the dishes came together in a similar manner. The chefs regularly make coleslaw for their culinary classes, so it was a process they knew, and they decided to add peppers and oranges to give the veggies a sweet and spicy kick. Cesar Amezcua, the team member whose talent lies in making desserts, opted for apples and raisins. The team tried his combination, and loved it!

The team faced a number of challenges in the competition, among them having so many ideas that it was hard to simplify them for the ingredient and prep limits that the competition required.

Another was learning how to effectively communicate and work as a team, but Magana says she and the other chefs were able to discuss any issues that came up. “We got along with each other and learned what each other liked and disliked,” Amezcua says. “We learned how to be partners and be successful.”

For Ortiz and Cecilia Magana, this competition was especially important. Both competed in the local Cooking up Change last year, but it was another team from Valley who went on to national glory while their team took second. He says the second-place finish motivated him to try harder this year. “What I was told was that we were one point away,” Magana says. “I knew I could make it and hoped for the first place.”

With determination and some key improvements, the two second-place finishers from last year returned ready to work. Ortiz says he learned how to be a more effective communicator. “Last year, I was more shy with my teammates,” Ortiz says. “I got out of my comfort zone and got more experience talking and got better at communicating.”

In the end, their hard work and persistence paid off. All three chefs say they were shocked — in a good way — upon finding out they had won! “I learned a lot from this experience, and it’s a big challenge to do something you really want to do,” Magana says.

Student chefs from nine other teams representing six Orange County High Schools participated in the city’s Cooking up Change competition, and all of them did a fantastic job. Three cheers for the following students for representing their schools and their city with some delicious-sounding dishes:

From Buena Park High School:

  • Makayla Claes, James Jeong and Edgardo Sorto –  Sweet and Sour Chicken Chow Mein served with Fresh Spinach and Romaine Delight with Honey Mustard and Parfait Tarts

From Fullerton High School:

  • MacKenzie Brewer, Helen Munoz and Natalie Rosen – Pinto Bean Chili with Cornbread Triangles served with Orange Spinach Salad and Apple-Poached Pears

From Ocean View High School:

  • Shailee Johnson and Joe Muriguia – Southwest Garden Burger served with Black Bean Salad and Peach Cobbler

From Sonora High School:

  • Cristina Avalos and Gissel Diaz – BBQ Pulled Turkey Sandwich with Fresh Slaw, served with Cucumber, Tomato and Black Bean Salad and Bananas Foster Parfait

  • Noah Cervantes, Cailin Kuchenbecker and Charles McKernan – Southwest Beef Pot Pie served with Southwest Salsa with BBQ Chips and Yummy Yummy Fruit Salad

From Valley High School:

  • Jasmin Gonzalez and Melisa Robles – Huli Huli Chicken Pizza served with Hawaiian Maui Slaw and Pineapple Lava

  • Bianey Rodriguez, Gustavo Ruiz and Eduardo Sagrero – Spicy Chicken Wrap served with Cajun Apple Slaw and Bionico

  • Mary Lopez, Daniel Reyes and Nancy Roman – Fresh and Easy Pasta served with Ratatouille Stuffed Bell Pepper Halves, and Fruity Napoleon

From Westminster High School:

  • Jonathan Aranda, Adonis Guzman and Cera Noriega – Cera’s Tropical Chicken with Cheesy Grits, served with Gotta Eat it Garden Salad and Zesty Honey-Glazed Fruit Boat

Excitement is in the air for the winning team from Valley, and the students have their eyes on bringing home back-to-back national titles. But even more than that, they hope to make an impact and spread the word about improving school food. “Our teacher is depending on us,” Amezcua says. “I'm planning to achieve, at nationals… to go to our principal and tell him to change school food. We're really tired of junk food in our schools.”

Congratulations, Valley Chefs! Can’t wait to see you again in D.C.