Savoring victory

Eight student culinary teams from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools competed in the second annual Cooking Up Change competition April 11 at Aldersgate Senior Living Community. Student chefs were challenged to prepare meals that were tasty, healthy, budget-friendly and met nutritional guidelines for the National School Lunch Program.

South Mecklenburg won the evening's top honor, the Judges' Choice Award, for its Tostadas Del Sur, Vegan Mediterranean Wraps and Pastel de Tres Leches. The team received a trophy, school banner and Carowinds tickets. The teacher also won an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Restaurant Association Trade Show in Chicago and a graduating senior will receive a 10-week paid internship with Compass Group.

The People's Choice Award went to Independence for its Roasted Cauliflower Grilled Cheese with Jalapeno and Roasted Sweet Potato Fries. The team received a trophy, school banner and Carowinds tickets. The teacher also won an all-expenses-paid trip to next year's Hotel, Motel and Restaurant Supply Show of the Southeast, and a graduating senior will receive a 10-week paid internship at Aldersgate.

The teams represented the high school culinary programs at East Mecklenburg, Hopewell, Independence, North Mecklenburg, Olympic, 4.15.19.W.Meck.Cooking_inside pic.jpgSouth Mecklenburg and West Mecklenburg, which had two teams competing. Aldersgate residents and community members sampled each dish and voted for two of the three awards.

"This is such a great event," said Jody Francisco, CMS manager of culinary development. "We've basically doubled in size from the four schools we had last year, and everyone pulls together to make it work. It's a great experience for the students and the teachers."

Student chefs from North Mecklenburg said they were hoping for a win with Kung Pao Chicken.

"We tried different recipes but went with this one," said senior Andrea Fullington. "This recipe was easier and best for competition – it's something different."

CMS has culinary programs at 10 high schools, including Garinger, Myers Park and West Charlotte. The programs combine classroom study and hands-on learning to prepare students for employment or entrepreneurial opportunities in culinary arts.

"My brother was in the program and he would not stop talking about it, so I decided to do it, too," said Joy Fields, a West Mecklenburg sophomore. "It's fun, our instructors are great and we're like a family."

The South Meck team also walked away with the School Spirit Award for the best display table. The team received a trophy, banner and Carowinds tickets, along with a 10-week paid internship for a graduating senior with the culinary program at Southminster retirement community.

Other dishes and teams in the competition included Taco Soup, Hopewell; Flat Bread Tacos, East Meck; Philly Cheesesteaks, West Meck 1; Baked Ziti, West Meck 2; and BBQ Chicken Sandwiches, Olympic.