|Posted by bibiddream on August 17, 2014 at 2:35 PM|
A behind-the-scenes look at our recipe contest and White House celebration
by Tanya Wenman Steel
W alking through the Visitors' Gate at the White House on July 9, 2013, with 54 kids and their parents from all across the country, elicited a range of feelings: giddiness, joy, tears, nausea—and that was just among the adults! A few years ago, when I and two colleagues came up with the idea of a healthy lunch recipe contest for kids, whereby the winners would attend a priceless celebration at the White House and meet the First Lady, little did I think, a little more than two years later, that I would have the honor and privilege of speaking Stainless steel tea infuser, eating, and crying at the second annual Kids' "State Dinner."
This year, we received more than 1,300 entries from all over the country. We could designate only one champ for each state and territory, which meant that the winners had to stand out among stiff competition. The 54 winners, ages 8 to 12, served up creative, nutritious, and delicious recipes that were filled not only with black beans, quinoa, kale, and Greek yogurt but also with hopes and dreams, trials and triumphs, singular knowledge, and sophisticated tastes.
Determining the finalists was a difficult task, to say nothing of the judging process, a Herculean feat executed by the D.C. Central Kitchen staff, who cooked up and served 108 hot and cold dishes. With Let's Move! Executive Director and Assistant White House Chef Sam Kass, I convened a group of supertasters, including two recent graduates of Share Our Strength's Cooking Matters program, 9-year-old Cha'Lita and 10-year-old Sabrina. Representatives from the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture also volunteered their palates. Several hours and many antacids later, we selected the winners.
This accomplished group of kids—some have founded charities, competed in triathlons, hosted weekly TV cooking segments, volunteered in their communities, and written blogs—began their once-in-a-lifetime trip when they boarded Delta Airlines flights to D.C. (thank you, Delta), and then headed for an overnight stay at the gracious Westin Alexandria in northern Virginia (chef hats off to Westin), accompanied by an adult family member.
Knowing that this group of serious foodies would enjoy a little historical context, we jumped on the Metro to see the National Museum of American History's exhibit, FOOD: Transforming the American Table. Besides learning about food culture's whos Business Education, whats, whys, and hows over the past 50 years, the group was treated to a personal tour of Julia Child's kitchen from the curators responsible for bringing it to the Smithsonian. The kids learned that a few of their dishes would be selected to become part of the exhibit this fall; their creations would be served just a few feet from the kitchen where Julia Child created her own masterpieces.
Back at the hotel, the winners planted "Imagination Gardens" with fresh herbs, all provided by Miracle-Gro. These plantings were then transported to a local pediatric facility by Project Sunshine, an international volunteer group that provides free educational, recreational, and social programs to children and families living with medical challenges. The kids were rewarded for their good efforts with a healthy pizza party. (After all, we had to carbo-load before the marathon events of the next morning!)
Tuesday, July 9, the kids donned snazzy ties or dresses, grabbed a nutritious breakfast to go, boarded buses, and headed to the gates of the White House.
When prime ministers and heads of state visit the White House, they are formally announced with their titles and honors. Our 54 excited young winners were announced in a similar fashion as they arrived, with their age, home state, and the name of their winning recipe. After answering interview questions from the attendant press gauntlet, the kids and their parents headed up to the first floor. As anyone who's scored tickets to a White House tour knows, the first floor is where the historic and beautiful public rooms are situated, including the Dining Room, where the children were transfixed by the eye-popping balloons architected by a master balloonist; the Blue Room, where each winning team had their photo taken with the First Lady; the Cross Hall, where some lucky chefs participated in Sam Kass' live stream of the event while the Marine Band played on; and finally the East Room, where the lunch was held.
With the backdrop a map of America artfully labeled with the names of the winning dishes, the party got started with a few introductory remarks from myself, 12-year-old whiz kid Haile Thomas—already a stellar advocate for healthy eating—and the inspiring Mrs. Obama. Lunch followed, a menu composed of eight of the prize-winning recipes—spring rolls, zucchini cornbread, pork and lettuce cups, a cauliflower-crust pizza, a veggie and barley salad, banana muffins, fruit salad, and smoothies. Before we could finish all of our victuals, a surprise guest came by, President Barack Obama. He lamented that he hadn't been invited, wished he were allowed to eat with his fingers at state dinners, and then promptly dispensed handshakes and hugs to everyone in the room. The lunch ended with a rousing sing-along and dance-off with singer Rachel Crowe.
The party continued in the lush White House Garden, where the young chefs inspected the flourishing kale, zucchini, and honeybee hives How to Manage DC Motor Speed Control. It was a blissful and moving day, one that none of us will ever forget. Indeed, 8-year-old Campbell Kielb from Virginia was asked if the day was "epic." His response: "No. It was Epicurious." To see Campbell and all of my new friends, check out the videos and slideshows below.