Cooking up a healthy change

MIKE McGEE | 3/4/2016, 4:29 p.m.
Competitive chef Ken Patrick sampled a portion of a meal called The Bird, The Fiesta, The Nest during the Cooking ...
Jeremy Tezano and Paloma Quiroga of Wilmer-Hutchins High School pose with chef Ken Patrick, on left. The team won first place at the Cooking up Change contest held at El Centro College, Feb. 20. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

Competitive chef Ken Patrick sampled a portion of a meal called The Bird, The Fiesta, The Nest during the Cooking up Change contest held at El Centro College on Feb. 20 and pressed the team of student chefs about seasoning they used in the creation of the dish.

“Cilantro,” Gilberto Torres of the Townview Magnet Center team answered. “The chicken patty is already spiced.”

He indicated that the recipe could be adjusted with either spicy or plain poultry.

Patrick considered the answer as he and four additional judges munched and jotted down notes.

The nationwide contest is part of the broader Healthy Schools Campaign, stated Julie Farris, director of Training, Nutrition and Quality Assurance with the Dallas ISD’s Food and Child Nutrition Services.

This was the first year Dallas ISD high school students competed in the contest.

“This year they have 11 cities from across the country that will have events like this and all those winners will go to Washington, D.C.,” she said.

The national finals will take place June 6.

“Our motto is that ‘Healthy food makes better learners,’” said Halsey Ward who is with the Healthy Schools Campaign.

The initiative started in Chicago and works to ensure that children have access to healthy school environments for an improved learning experience, according to the campaign’s website.

“Obviously, there are a lot of different categories of the school environment. School food is only one of them,” Ward admitted. “But that’s the niche that [the contest] fits in our organization.

“The Cooking up Change is a vibrant, dynamic, incredible competition and we’re so happy to have Dallas on board this year.”

The kitchen and judging areas for the contest were somewhat more simple and utilitarian than many depicted on televised cooking competition shows but were filled with similar pressures.

The contest was not only about the preparation of tasty, picture-perfect samples for the judges; the student recipes had to conform to the dietary guidelines of the state and USDA guidelines, limit sodium content, and the meal’s ingredients could cost no more than $1 per plate, according to Olga Rosenberger, director of Cafeteria Operations with the Dallas ISD Food and Child Nutrition Services.

“It definitely gives students a different perspective on the program and the meals that they do receive every day,” Rosenberger remarked, noting that the students learned how difficult preparing nutritious, delicious and affordable meals can really be.

The contest also underscored the necessity of teamwork – which the Townview team admitted during the judging round that they discovered when a member of their trio didn’t show up for the competition – as well as the value of creative collaboration to meet goals. That was a lesson that Eryn Sherwood of Moises E. Molina High School took with her.

“I discovered that my friends, they have my back. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help of them … this is really eye-opening,” the 11th-grader stated about the problem-solving effort the competition required.

The face-offs between the teams of chefs and panel of judges represented the last leg of a contest that took months of student preparation before a winner was declared.