Student Champs, Now in Culinary School, Recall Their Cooking up Change Experience

  • October 13, 2011

Cooking up Change Chicago is quickly approaching! The healthy cooking competition challenges high school student chefs to create healthy, nutritious school meals using the same budgetary and nutritional guidelines as food service departments across the country.

We caught up with two Cooking up Change Chicago alumni who took the challenge. Since winning the Chicago competition, Lidia Sanchez and Gerardo Garcia have enrolled in Washburne Culinary Institute. The pair took a break from finals (their school is on a quarter system so finals fall in October!) to chat with Healthy Schools Campaign.

Cooking_Up_Change_Winners_rszHSC: After the the Chicago and national competition, what happened? What have you been up to?

GG: We went back to school and took finals!

LS: Days later! It was exciting [to be featured in the newspapers and on TV], I told my mom and she went and got two papers!

GG: Me too!

What’s the most rewarding thing about cooking and the culinary arts?

GG: When you’re done with a dish, seeing the finished product.

LS: It’s something you love doing — you do it because you love it.

GG: It also comes from the heart.

Tell me about pursuing a career in the culinary arts.

LS: I love it!

GG: It’s very interesting. There are so many techniques, different things to learn. Different dishes and foods. There’s a lot of tasting…

LS & GG: A LOT of tasting! 

How has Cooking up Change shaped your decision to pursue a certain career path?

LS: Yes. My dad and my uncle are chefs — that influenced me to go to a culinary high school, which I loved. That helped shape my decision to go to Washburne.

GG: I got involved in high school, which made me go for it. I love it, I love cooking. It’s so interesting to me.

LS: Making good food…

GG: Especially when you eat it! 

Your team received scholarships from Washburne Culinary Institute for winning the Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest. How did it feel to receive the recognition and reward?

GG: We couldn’t believe it when we won. That was a big step for us. It was the first step in going further in the culinary field. Thank you guys!

LS: I remember when we won, thinking ‘wow, we got money for school!’

0053_rszThe Chicago champs created a unique side dish. Your surprisingly delicious Soup of Sunshine shined bright as the best side dish in the national competition. So are you still trying to convince people to try your soup?

LS & GG: Oh yeah! Definitely!

GG: At the House of Representatives briefing, there was a lady that said she didn’t like peanut butter. We said just try it and she ended up loving it!

LS: She was like, “Oh this is so good.”


How is culinary school? What do you like about it?

GG: We’re done with the little kid stuff. Everybody works as a team — if someone is behind, there is always someone to get them there.

LS: They help each other when they need something. If you don’t know something, there is someone on your team to teach you. 

GG: There is always someone to give you a hand. If a teammate can’t, Chef [instructors] can and will.

After graduating from culinary school, what are you looking forward to?

LS: For me, I’m looking to be a personal chef or an executive chef.

GG: I want to work the line. I want to start at the bottom and work myself up so I can get to know all the procedures and steps you have to take. I want to become a Sous chef one day.

Any advice for the 2011 Cooking up Change Chicago student chefs?

GG: Do your best, your recipes are good.

LS: Do your best and cook from the heart.

Thanks to Lidia and Gerardo for sharing their experience with the HSC team. We’re always glad to hear from Cooking up Change alums! 

Good luck with your finals!

Are you Cooking up Change? Get your ticket for the Cooking up Change flagship contest and benefit on November 3.

Be sure to check back for stories from Cooking up Change alums, chef mentors, and sponsors and students!