Sunday, February 02, 2014


By Brenda Gazzar, Los Angeles Daily News |

LAUSD "Cooking Up Change" culinary competition for high school students held at LA Trade Technical College. First place winners from Manual Arts High School are Jenifer Mendez, left ,and Kimberly Sanchez. BBQ Chicken Pizza, Spicy Bean Dip and Tropical Burst salad. (Thurs. Jan 30, 2014 Photo by Brad Graverson/The Daily Breeze)

1/30/14, 8:07 PM PST  ::  Watch out, Gordon Ramsay and Paula Deen. Student teams from nine Los Angeles Unified schools whipped up their own creatively inspired meals Thursday in the district’s “Cooking Up Change” competition at Los Angeles Trade Technical College.

Not only did the lunch dishes have to be healthy, but the cooks had to work with a limited list of ingredients and meet specific nutrition guidelines. To top it off, they had to stay within strict budgetary constraints — about $1 per meal.

“I tend to cook with a large variety of ingredients, and being restricted was an entirely new experience for me,” said Kevin Escobar, a senior at Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley. Escobar and his teammate Jose Garcia, also a senior, spent part of their morning preparing “KJ’s beef fajita tacos,” with pico de gallo and a sweet-and-sour fruit tart for dessert. And the teens were pleased with the results.

“I loved how our dish came out, but everyone else’s also turned out really good,” a nervous Escobar said before the winning team was announced. “We had good competition.”

Student chefs Jenifer Mendez and Kimberly K. Sanchez of Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles ended up claiming the top prize by impressing the judges with their BBQ chicken pizza on pita bread drizzled with mozzarella and Parmesan, with spicy bean dip and tropical “C” burst dessert.

The excited duo will now have their dishes served multiple times throughout the next school year to the district’s 650,000 students. They’ll also enter the national competition in Washington, D.C., this June.

After embracing and shedding a few tears, the girls said they were excited to change people’s health and have their dish enjoyed by students. Perhaps they could even be “the new face of LAUSD,” Mendez said.

“These are two little girls who are very sweet, very smart and very happy and positive; they don’t have any drama stories to tell,” said Genevieve Ramirez-Wobrock, the team’s culinary arts instructor, who this semester is teaching them international cuisine.

“They just wanted people to know that there are kids out there like them,” Ramirez-Wobrock said. They love food. They like healthy food. That’s what they are already eating — they already represent that.”

Each school lunch prepared by the teens had to consist of one main dish and two side dishes. Preparation required less than six preparation steps and 10 ingredients, as the dishes would need to be made quickly in school cafeterias. And all fixings had to come from a designated “Cooking Up Change” list.

James Vidal, a junior at Banning High School, watched in the audience as the nine teams — including one from his own school — presented their dishes to the panel of five judges.

Banning High School’s team, made up of students Justine Ambriz, Priscilla Diaz and Bryan Orozco, presented a savory broccoli-and-cheese strata, a chopped spring-green salad and a peachy banana yogurt cup. Although he didn’t see or taste the food, Vidal said the descriptions sounded delicious.

“That’s what I love about this competition — it gets young people to get more involved in healthier foods,” Vidal said. “So many people in my family, close relatives, friends — there are a lot of people that are eating unhealthy around me.”

The competition not only allows students to apply what they learn in their school culinary programs, it gives them the chance to taste what life might be like in the restaurant or food-service industry, said David Binkle, LAUSD’s director of food services.

Summer Harrington, a judge and consulting chef for Gourmet Foods Inc., said every dish she sampled made by the student teams was “fantastic.”

“It’s just a beautiful thing to see them actually being that involved in their food and their ingredients and overall trying to create food that was healthier,” she said of the competition.

Other participating LAUSD schools included Carson High School, Dorsey High School, Doyle Career & Transition Center, L.A. Center for Enriched Studies, Santee Education Complex and West Adams Preparatory.

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