One of the best parts about Cooking up Change is the intangible but undeniably electric energy of students converging, finally meeting other high-achieving culinary students and at last having the chance to show off their hard work with passion and dedication.
The day of the competition, nerves jangled, stomachs filled with butterflies, and young people in crisp white uniforms began the complicated task of cooking for nearly twenty judges -- an for an audience of 600+ hungry guests. Then they set to work serving sample-sized versions of their meals, often at lightning speed.
Student chefs prepare taste-size samples of their meal for a panel of judges
For many aspiring chefs, it was the chance to see what it'd be like to run their own restaurant. Darrell Crawford, a junior at Simeon, surveyed the room and said, "If this was my business, I'd be really happy. Lots of people, lots of different foods, a good team."
Other students were hoping that the long road to finalizing their recipes would pay off. "We're getting very positive feedback and hope we win," said Miriam Chavez, a junior at Prosser. "We struggled a lot with our recipe and had to change it a lot. Some of the ingredients had to be changed so we could create a balance."
Students from every school faced a heap of obstacles. Javontae McCloud, a senior at Corliss, joked: "The most challenging thing? Washing the dishes! No, I'm just playing . . ." He went on to add that, in all seriousness, Cooking up Change taught him a lot about eating well. "I learned that you can't be afraid to try new things. And it's OK to eat what you normally eat -- just do it a healthier way."
Students present tastes of their entree and two side dishes
For the winners, though, it was a particularly special night. The students of Washington High School accepted their award with hugs, cheers and even some tears. "I'm just really happy," said Leon Sanchez, a senior at Washington. "We worked so hard to get to where we are." He added that the trip to D.C. would be his first opportunity to travel outside of Illinois.
Washington junior Marina Nava added that her whole school would feel the effects. "I'm so proud of my school," she said. "People will know good things about our school now. They'll know Washington won [Cooking up Change]. We were underdogs; now we're first-place winners."