MOUNT MORRIS — Three Culinary Arts students will have the chance of a lifetime to compete in the National Culinary Arts Challenge for the National NASA HUNCH program.
In February, the Mount Morris Career and Technical Education Center sent these three students to compete against 28 other teams from around the nation, and they were selected as finalists.
The next competition will take place this month at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Now these Culinary Arts students will compete with nine other teams to win a chance to have their entree be produced at the Johnson Space Lab, and sent to the International Space Station for the astronauts to enjoy.
The Mount Morris team is the only one from New York that is competing in this national competition. They are Mackenzie Wheeler of Perry, Anthony Uveino, of (Keshequa) Nunda, and Robert (Sam) Meyers of Geneseo. Their creation, Berry Quinoa Salad, was chosen since it meets at the strict guidelines in the astronaut diet set by NASA standards. These students are led by their instructor Chef Stephen Kingston, who had made it to this national competition last year.
In order to avoid any bias the students were chosen by the science, history, and english departments for the competition.
“There are certain foods that are not good in space,” Kingston said. “The stuff we take for granted here is a real challenge in space. Each student turned in recipes and looked at space itself. Tony is the one who came up with the salad.”
Uveino said he switched the kale that was originally in the salad for spinach since it is mostly water and looks better.
Meyers said just getting chosen as a finalist is a huge accomplishment for the team. He looks forward to going to NASA and meeting the astronauts.
“To see the devotion of these students is what I appreciate the most,” Kingston said. “They are devoted to this assignment while the rest of the class is cooking. They have been working hard on this since the beginning of the school year. The criteria of the dish changes based on the astronaut's needs. Whoever wins the competition will have their photos taken with the astronauts.”
Wheeler said that the team has been working on papers, research, and recipes since early October last year on this project.
Kingston said the process is very involved with papers, the dish, final papers, and a video that goes to NASA.
The biggest challenge is that astronauts miss the fresh fruits and vegetables the most when they are in space, and in order to get them those dishes they need to be consumed right away.
This type of dish would be good for six portions, and has the fresh fruit and veggies that the astronauts crave along with the hydration they need.
The students will all be able to wear a fancy chef jacket with the NASA patch on them, along with sponsors who have helped with the project.
Meyers is looking forward to being part of the national competition in Texas.
“I feel proud of myself for doing this. I am excited to be able to go to NASA,” he said. “I hope NASA likes the dish we made.”
Uveino said that he sadly will not be at the final competition due to other conflicts.
“I learned a lot about cooking for astronauts. It was a fun experience to work with everyone,” he said. “I learned a lot about our dish, and all of the health benefits it offers.”
Wheeler said she wants to make the dish for the astronauts.
“I want to go to Texas and make the food for the astronauts,” she said. “I am curious as to what they will think about our dish. I can’t wait to tour NASA.”
Kingston said that last year his students were able to get a tour of a lifetime from the same guide who gives the President of the United States tours of NASA.
“Last year we got an unbelievable tour not everyone else got to have,” he said. “The gentleman that gave us the tour has done just about every job at NASA. We got to see places that the President gets to see. We got to go into the control room, and security clearance rooms. We got to see the robot they were working on that was going to Mars.”
The NASA HUNCH is not just about the competition, but it will be a culinary education experience as well. The team plans to visit several food places there, and bring back what they learn to the center. All of the expenses for the trip are paid for by the school and partnerships. The students only need to bring money for souvenirs.
Meyers plans on going to Alfred State, Uveino plans on going to Niagara County Community College or Finger Lakes Community College, and Wheeler plans on going to Niagara County Community College or Monroe Community College.
For more information on this competition visit https://www.nasahunch.com