Chicago Student Chefs Send a Message with their Meal

  • June 12, 2014

A whirlwind tour for the winners

Chicago's team of student chefs with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and HSC's President and CEO Rochelle Davis.

How many kids attend prom and have lunch with their city’s mayor on the same day? That kind of schedule has been business as usual for Chicago’s winning Cooking up Change team.

Cooking up Change is much more than just a culinary contest — it’s also a series of opportunities for students to make their voices heard. Winning meals from local contests are served to students’ peers, as well as to civic leaders and lawmakers to spread the message that healthy school food can be delicious.

That’s what happened to Chicago’s winning team from Chicago Vocational Career Academy (CVCA). Their meal, which featured locally raised chicken drumsticks, beat more than a dozen other Chicago teams and won rave reviews from the judges last fall. A few months later, their dish was offered up to the district’s 400,000 students.

And that was just the beginning. In May, the team dished up its meal in Springfield to the Illinois State Board of Education. While in the state capital, they also met their local state representative, Marcus Evans, who awarded them certificates of achievement.

Later that month, the CVCA culinary stars were formally recognized by Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett at a board meeting, where they prepared their meal for members of the Chicago Board of Education. And they dined with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who enthusiastically supported their efforts to make a delicious school lunch that met the updated federal school food nutrition guidelines.

(Oh, and then they went to prom.)

Last but not least, the students traveled to Washington, D.C., earlier this week to represent their hometown at the Cooking up Change national finals. After meeting U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Let’s Move! Executive Director and Senior White House Nutrition Policy Advisor Sam Kass, they cooked and served their meal yet again to a panel of prestigious judges. Against a tough field of student chefs from nine other teams across the country, CVCA was awarded a third-place national finish.

What stood out most from this whirlwind tour?

“I enjoyed the reaction of the people after they ate our meal. It made me feel like a star,”’ said Shawnlaun.

Although the students were definitely in it to win it, the broader mission of Cooking up Change wasn’t lost on them. So far their voices have been heard by CPS, Springfield, the Mayor, the U.S. Department of Education, Capitol Hill and the White House. As Mallory explained in an NPR interview, the message is simple: Healthy school food matters, and if it’s done right, kids like it.

Congrats, CVCA students, on all of your accomplishments and for making Chicago proud!