Three of the four student chefs who created the winning meal… (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore…)
Centennial High School student Jasmine Holland told about 20 of her friends to try a new dish on the school lunch menu — a chicken salad wrap created by her and other culinary arts classmates that recently took first prize in the Howard County Public Schools' third annual Top Student Chef competition.
"I told them they had to buy it. It's the best lunch on there," Holland said.
As it turned out, Holland didn't need to spread the word. On a menu that included pepperoni pizza and tacos, many students chose the more healthful alternative — some unaware that their fellow students had created it — and they later said they'd be back for more.
That means another successful effort by county nutrition officials who are trying to get students to make more healthful food choices while catering to their finicky tastes at a time when childhood obesity dominates news coverage. School officials say that the competition allows students to create and choose new menu items.
The chicken wrap, which was served with corn salsa, was featured on menus at the county's high schools Friday. Mary Klatko, county schools' director of food and nutrition services, said at Centennial High alone, students bought 128 chicken wraps.
Based on those numbers, Klatko said, the dish will be offered on school menus beginning in September, then likely again every other month.
"I'm going to keep looking at the count, and if it keeps doing good I will continue to run it," she said. "We'll see how that goes, and if it goes well, we may test it in the middle schools."
Klatko added that both of the previous winning entries, a buffalo chicken wrap and a chicken quesadilla, are currently on the school menu.
And that's welcoming news for the team of Centennial culinary arts students who prepared the dish along with their instructor, Caitlin McBride. They spent the year creating and tweaking the dish. The final product was made with such ingredients as Dijon mustard, red onions, whole-wheat tortilla flour, romaine lettuce and mayonnaise.
McBride said that students had to make certain that the school system's food and nutrition service staff could create the dish on its serving lines and that the wrap met all Department of Agriculture and county nutrition requirements.
"What we had to do initially was find a recipe that we liked, and then the kids experimented with new things to add to the recipe," said McBride. "They added in, took out, and then we had to do a nutritional analysis.
"The chicken salad wrap originally had bacon in it. Then we tried turkey bacon and we realized the salt content was too high. So we brought [the salt content] down, and we discovered it was just as good. We added green onions at that point to give it a little more kick."
As students entered the cafeteria Friday, the culinary arts students donned chef's robes, wondering how their concoction would be received.
Among the first students to purchase the dish — which cost $3, the same as other entrees — was Centennial student Joseph Choi, who said he chose the chicken wrap "because it looked really good."
He said he did not know that fellow Centennial students had made the wrap, figuring that it was merely a new item on the menu. "The first bite that I tried was really chickeny," said Choi. "Maybe after the first bite, I tasted the celery. Nice."
Said Centennial student Chris Lee: "I thought it was pretty good. I like the vegetables, the chicken, and the dressing was pretty good, too."
Lee said the wrap was a welcoming diversion from what's normally offered on the menu. "It's usually the same thing every couple of days," he said, "like chicken and pizza."
Culinary arts student Eray Akbas said he also told friends to try the dish, and he prepared himself for negative comments but said those he spoke to thought the wrap was tasty.
"It's pretty cool to have people eat your food and really enjoy it. It's a good feeling," said Akbas. "I had future plans to open a restaurant for myself. This is a first-step kind of thing. There's always going to be someone who doesn't like it. But if they don't, no big deal."