Six teams of student chefs clad in double-breasted white jackets and black-and-white houndstooth pants converged on the Art Institute of Houston last weekend, all aiming to slice and dice their way to a national title.
The six teams, which were made up of HISD culinary students from Westside, Northside, and Milby high schools, were participating in the annual Cooking Up Change competition. The contest challenges students to create healthy meals that meet the real-life nutritional and cost requirements of the national school meal programs.
In the end, Milby High School’s Broadway Buffs took home the grand prize for their recipes of Zucchini Pasta with Cajun Chicken, Pinto Beans, Tomato Soup, and Bananas and Yogurt. The three-person team will advance to the national Cooking Up Change contest in Washington, D.C., this summer.
Their winning menu will also be served at all HISD’s high schools starting next school year.
“I feel so happy! We all cried,” said junior Roberto Blas, a member of the Milby Broadway Buffs. “This process was so difficult. We all shared ingredients, which we only had 40 to choose from, so creating three different dishes was a challenge. But now Milby Buffs, we’re bringing the trophy home!”
The four-hour culinary competition marked the culmination of almost three months of preparation for the students, who had to create a main entrée, side dish, and fruit dish, all of which cost no more than $1.40.
Each team had 90 minutes to cook, 10 minutes to prepare plates for presentation, and five minutes on stage to present their dishes to the seven local celebrity judges. During the presentation, judges inquired about the creation of the dishes and the technical skills used to create them.
“This competition lets us demonstrate our skills by building a menu with certain guidelines and skills we are required to meet for the competition,” said Hugo Araiza, a member of the runner-up team, Los Cilantros from Westside High School. “We wanted to develop our culinary experiences, so this was an opportunity to work in a real-life environment.”
Prepared meals ranged from Asian to Latino-inspired dishes. Students served judges dishes such as Spicy Tuna Wraps, “Zucchanga” (zucchini lasagna) Domes, and Orange Chicken over Teriyaki Brown Rice.
“Our creativity and what we worked so hard for is what we showed on stage,” said junior Akilah Johnson, a member of the Northside Trendsetters. “Not many get this chance, so we wanted to make a difference.”
All participating teams received a medal and certificate of completion, as well as tickets to an Astros baseball game. Members of the runner-up team received gourmet cutting boards and $500 scholarships to the Art Institute of Houston. Grand prize winners received a culinary gift basket, a chef’s knife set, and a $1,000 scholarship to the Art Institute of Houston.
Watching the competition were several district administrators, including HISD Board of Education President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby, and Nutrition Services Officer Betti Wiggins, whose department co-sponsored the event with the national Healthy Schools Campaign.
At the end of the competition, HISD leaders shared words of advice and congratulated the students on their hard work.
“Your food was amazing. What this presentation shows is that you are brave enough to come out here and put your product up against other people’s,” Rhonda Skillern-Jones said to the students. “To me, that says that you are already building the skills that you need to be competitive in this career.”