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Job Corps’ Top Chefs Competition Promotes Let’s Move! Healthy Meals

In Lounge 201 on Capitol Hill, 19 Job Corps food service managers from Job Corps centers nationwide exercised their culinary creativity in a “Top Chef” food competition in support of Let’s Move! This event known as “Job Corps’ Top Chefs: Creating Healthy and Nutritious Food Services,” was the culmination of a three day summit, September 13- 15, 2011, held in Washington DC. It was hosted by the National Job Corps Association (NJCA) is held annually, with this year being the second conference.

As a nutrition advisor for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, I was asked to be one of nine judges at the Top Chef competition and judge a lunch session. I brought my appetite (as well as my curious intern, Mellina Stephen) to the Top Chef competition.

When seated at the judges table, I had the pleasure of making new acquaintances as well as reconnecting with former ones. The distinguished judges were Edna Primrose, National Director of Job Corps, U.S. Department of Labor; David Scanlan, President of Sodexo Government; Lance Lemin, Executive Chef, Sodexo; Daniel Thomas, Chef, U.S. Capital Senate; and my good friend and chef, Terrell “Chef Tee” Danley (owner of Crème Café in D.C.). Job Corps also reached out to three students from the Potomac Job Corps Center for their valuable input.

The nutritionist in me wanted to ensure that the “healthy” meals presented met the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 and promoted the nutrition messages from ChooseMyPlate.gov.

The competition which was enthusiastically moderated by LaVera Leonard, President of the NJCA, divided the chefs into 6 teams. Two teams battled head-to-head in one of three categories: side dish, entrée, and dessert. They were tasked with preparing a dish that was visually appealing, creative, and tasty (“student friendly”).

All of the dishes were very delicious and presented a refreshing, “healthier” interpretation of classic dishes. For example, the winning side dish was macaroni and cheese made with whole wheat pasta, broccoli, low fat cheddar cheese, and low fat milk. The dish was perfectly portioned from a cupcake-like mold and was a true favorite for the students! The winning entrée dish featured baked chicken breast topped with sliced pear halves, and a balsamic and fig glaze. For dessert, a warm sweet potato bread pudding made with sunflower bread, and sweetened with agave won its category. All food items were selected from the local farmers market, in support of the USDA’s initiative Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.

Overall, I was impressed by the entire competition and enjoyed the animated feedback from the chef judges and the honest remarks from the student judges.

The event ended on a positive note as Sodexo President, David Scanlan, encouraged the Job Corps student judges to take advantage of job opportunities. Chef Daniel Thomas also offered words of inspiration to the contestants, and to further promote making healthy choices, I distributed copies of the Let’s Eat consumer brochure.

The Top Chef winning recipes can be found here (pdf). I would encourage you to take a look and maybe try them out. I know I will!