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Fairfax Co. Students Face Off in Culinary Challenge

Mexican Tortilla Soup? Flatbread Pizza with Teriyaki Chicken? Lime-glazed Citrus Salad? These dishes are not typically found on school lunch menus, but they might be soon.

Fifteen teams from 10 Fairfax County Public Schools, including the three culinary academies at Edison, Chantilly, and Marshall High Schools, will face off on Mar. 11 to win a spot for their inventive edible entries on the Fairfax County Public Schools’ cafeteria menus.

The contest takes place from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Va. during Real Food for Kids’ fifth annual Culinary Challenge and Wellness Expo.

Kate Sherwood, executive chef for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, will be the competition emcee. Each team has been tasked to create a snack or a breakfast or lunch entree that is delicious, appealing, meets federal nutritional guidelines and can fit into the FCPS lunch program profile with consideration to cost.

“We want to engage students in the decision-making process about the foods served at school,” said JoAnne Hammermaster, executive director of Real Food for Kids. “They are smart and have more sophisticated palates than many give them credit for.”

The expo will kick off with a keynote address by FCPS Food and Nutrition Director Rodney Taylor, who is revolutionizing school food in the 198 schools and centers under his watch. With Real Food for Kids support, he is training kitchen staff to cook from scratch, bringing in many local farmers as vendors, installing salad bars in all 141 elementary schools and outdoor grills for barbecue and rotisserie ovens for chicken in high schools. He is soliciting student input and turning around their thinking about school food.

There will also be expert-led workshops and chef demonstrations. Among the presenters will be Six O’Clock Scramble’s Aviva Goldfarb, Washington Post Deputy Food Editor Bonnie S. Benwick, Susan Soorenko of Moorenkos Ice Cream and Renee Comet of Rene Comet Photography. Attendees can learn about quick and healthful family meals; plant-based diets; fueling for athletic performance; how to hydrate; the importance of eating “clean,” and food writing and photography.

There also will be valuable competition prizes from Wüsthof and audience drawings for celebrity signed cookbooks and dining certificates at Earls Kitchen + Bar, Red Apron, Hӓrth and Chuys. The cost of $15 per person includes lunch, tastings, drawings and workshops.