Earlier this month, the winning Cooking up Change lunch, created by culinary students from Washington High School in Chicago, made its cafeteria debut throughout the Chicago Public Schools system. The meal itself earned rave reviews during the contest, but the team's success depended on more than just a crowd-pleasing recipe. Washington students were fully prepared for every aspect of Cooking up Change by chef mentors and culinary instructors, and they worked hard as a team for many weeks, perfecting everything from their kitchen work process to how meals looked on plates.
All that prep paid off especially well for Washington students, but every culinary team benefited from the incredibly dedicated mentors and instructors who guided them through Cooking up Change.
Sarai Rosales of Frontera Grill, chef mentor for the 2012 North-Grand team, had a particularly unique perspective. She started her culinary career as a Cooking up Change team member in 2008 and 2009. When we spoke with Sarai about her experience mentoring North-Grand, she said she's been thrilled to give back.
"These students are the future, and it's important for us as chefs to stand up for what we believe in," she says.
Her experience in Cooking up Change shaped her journey towards working as a chef. She says, "When I did Cooking up Change in high school, I knew [cooking] was tough. But by the time I got to college, I had an understanding; I was like, 'OK, I know how to do this!'"
Plus, Rosales made some changes in her own diet along the way. She says, "Now I'm able to drink raw juice with kale, banana, cilantro... back in high school, I didn't want that! It was too green for me! And I know I'm not the only kid who thought that way."
Last but not least, Cooking up Change helped her discover that she wasn't alone as a young person looking to change the world. She says, "Cooking up Change helped me network and work with students who thought like I did, who care."
Chef mentors fill this role, too, showing students that they can be both professional chefs and change makers as adults. And chef mentors are just as invested in winning as the students are.
Immediately after Washington was named the winning team at Cooking up Change this fall, we caught up with their chef mentor, Teri LaMont from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. She stressed that Washington's culinary program had prepared students well, and as a mentor she was able to build on both students' knowledge base and on their drive for success.
"Their enthusiasm was so there," LaMont said that night as her students celebrated around her. "It was amazing to see younger people with so many big ideas."
HSC thanks all of the chef mentors and culinary instructors who make Cooking up Change possible each year, in Chicago at our flagship competition and in competitions nationwide. Washington High School will travel to Washington, DC in May 2013 to compete in the Cooking up Change national finals!