When the heat was turned up, the Westside High School’s Culinary Arts Program team stayed cool under pressure, taking home first place at the Cooking Up Change National Finals on Monday in Washington, D.C.
Students Jose Acosta, Jalien Noel, and Briseida Salas, working under the direction of Westside Chef Reggie Martin, wowed the judges with a menu that highlighted different flavors from the Bayou City: cowboy Cajun chicken lollipop, twisted Texas cabbage and collard greens, and a pineapple tart.
This was the second time a team of HISD students made it to the national finals for the competition, but it was the first time a team has won the grand prize. The annual contest challenges participants to create healthful, appetizing dishes using limited ingredients, simple recipes, and equipment that can be found in any school kitchen. They must also meet strict nutritional requirements, such as no added salt or sugar and limited fat.
Westside culinary instructor Chef Reginald Martin said he was proud of his students’ performance.
“What impressed me most about our students was their ability to take what they learned in the classroom and apply those principles and techniques in this competition,” Martin said. “They really demonstrated to the national panel of judges the strength of training they and their peers receive on our campus.”
“To get to Washington, D.C., and be named the national champions was an incredibly exciting moment,” said Ray Danilowicz, executive general manager of HISD’s Nutrition Services Department. “I don’t think our team members had ever even been on a plane before. But their food looked and tasted terrific, their presentation was super, and they answered questions like food professionals.”
Jose Acosta said he and his teammates were inspired by the food around them and a desire to create dishes everyone would enjoy.
“I wanted to make a healthy, yet delicious, meal not only my family would enjoy, but also students,” Jose said.
HISD students and staff will have the opportunity to enjoy the winning meal in the coming school year when the dishes are added to school menus across the district.