From the kitchen to center stage, Chicago high school culinary students were the stars of the show last night at Healthy Schools Campaign’s annual Cooking up Change competition and fundraiser at the Bridgeport Art Center. The event featured 16 teams of student chefs from Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in a cooking competition for the healthiest and most delicious school meal. In the end it was Marshall High School and their Haitian Spice Chicken, Slamming Collard Greens and Pineapple Surprise Parfait that came out on top as the judges’ favorite meal.
“This experience was so good for me,” said Autumn Guyton, one of the five Marshall student chefs. “I want to go into the culinary field when I’m older.”
Cooking up Change puts student voices front and center in the conversation about healthy school food, challenging them to create school lunches that their peers will enjoy, while adhering to strict nutrition guidelines, ingredient lists and budget constraints. Asked what she learned from the contest, Autumn said, “You have your ups and downs. Your recipes are not going to be exactly what you thought they might be, but you have to keep trying and make the best out of it.”
The group’s inspiration for their Haitian-themed meal came from teammate Da’ovan Brown, a native of the small Caribbean nation. “I’ve never tasted any kind of Haitian dish in school,” she said. “I just wanted to taste something that resembled home.”
And from that, a winning meal was born.
The Marshall team topped a competitive field that included a variety of colorful and delicious dishes, including second place Washington High School’s Mexican Lasagna, Lemon and Cilantro Zucchini Salad and Peanut Butter Banana Croquettes; and third place Prosser Career Academy’s Chicken Fajita Bowl, Pico de Gallo Spinach Salad and Fiesta Fruit Cup.
“We are incredibly proud of each and every one of these students, and grateful to the coaches, mentors and all of our supporters,” said Rochelle Davis, president and CEO of Healthy Schools Campaign. “We and all of our guests love hearing about the students’ journey from the culinary classroom to the competition floor. Cooking up Change leaves little doubt that school meals can be both healthy and delicious, and that students can get excited about eating school food.”
As the winning team, Marshall’s meal will be incorporated into the CPS menu and served across the entire district. In June, the team will travel to Washington, D.C., to compete in the Cooking up Change national finals against other winning teams from around the country, and to serve their meal to members of Congress at a legislative briefing on Capitol Hill.
Even though it was Marshall’s first Cooking up Change victory, culinary instructor Kimberly Minor had a good feeling heading into the competition. “The students worked hard researching a dish that would be different,” she said. “They tested their meal out on all the students at school and everyone liked it. When we left the school this morning the students said, ‘Ms. Minor, we’ve got this. We’re gonna win!’
“I’m still in shock,” she added. “This is a great group of kids. Their hard work paid off.”
Chef mentor John Abels from Le Cordon Bleu helped the team perfect their dish, but was quick to point out that the success was their own.
“This team designed the whole menu themselves,” he said. “They made some tweaks and that became the winning recipe. It’s great to see that young talent in my industry can start at this age. That’s what I love about Cooking up Change.”
While the spirited competition among the teams helps make Cooking up Change such an exciting and dynamic event, in the end, everyone wins. Cooking up Change is an opportunity for students to speak up about the importance of healthy school food, and on this night, the students spoke loud and clear.
Congrats to all the Cooking up Change competitors! For additional event coverage, check out:
High stakes, low budgets for CPS cooking competition (WGN Chicago)