"The idea was pretty cool, but I wonder what they would have done if they only had a dollar like we did," said Cari Smith, a junior studying culinary arts in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Cari and her classmates at Tilden high school won the third annual Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest with a lunch that can be prepared for about a dollar.
Bravo's Top Chefs were given a budget of $2.60 per meal, close to the amount that schools receive to serve a lunch but nearly three times the amount that schools are actually able to spend on ingredients. After accounting for overhead, labor and the myriad expenses of running a food program, the amount that most food service directors have to work with is less than a dollar. (In large urban districts, it's generally closer to $0.70.)
"I'm thrilled to see chefs of this stature take on school food," said Rochelle Davis, founding executive director of the Healthy Schools Campaign, the not-for-profit organization that hosts Cooking up Change. "I'd love to see the contestants turn the competition up a notch and take on the challenge of creating these lunches with the same constraints that the students face in Cooking up Change -- really the challenges that school staff face every day in trying to serve nutritious, appealing meals to our nation's schoolchildren."
In Cooking up Change, teams from across the U.S. have met the budget challenge while creating meals that exceed high nutrition standards and only use ingredients available to food service. Winning meals from the contest have been served in schools across the country and in the U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria, which sold out of the meal Cari and her classmates designed. The meal has also been integrated into the lunch menu for Chicago Public Schools, where it is regularly prepared on a real school budget and wins a thumbs-up from other high school students.
How does this meal compare with the Top Chefs' champion meal?
Cooking up Change winning meal:
Top Chef winning meal:
Davis has extended an invitation to the contestants of Top Chef to bring their culinary prowess to a cook-off with the aspiring chefs of Cooking up Change.
"It's a friendly challenge," she said. "But it's also a chance for the chefs to stand alongside our nation's students and say that one dollar is not enough."
If the chefs accept, Cari and her teammates may be willing to reveal some veteran tips.
"Plan out a budget and stick with your budget," she advised. "And pay attention to the nutrition guidelines. You have to be really creative."