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NASA HUNCH Culinary Challenge

March 10, 2022 - 11:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in BOCES, NASA HUNCH Culinary Challenge, Culinary Arts, batavia, video, news.
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Three BOCES culinary arts students -- Liliana Espinoza, Tristan DiLaura, and Alexa Wolcott -- have had their heads in the clouds the past few months, dreaming up a meal that NASA astronauts might find comforting while they wait in quarantine before their next flight into space.

Their idea: Something with a Tex-Mex flair to suit the cuisine of Houston, where astronauts spend a lot of time.

The challenge: The meal must be low in calories, sugar, fat, and sodium.

Here's what they cooked up: A shrimp fajita with red lentil tortillas and a creamy avocado sauce; a side of cilantro lime cauliflower rice, and a Mexican chocolate brownie.

If they met the challenge, they could be among the final 10 teams to fly to Houston to prepare their meal for another panel of judges and the chance for a top-three finish, which comes with college scholarships.

Watch the video to see how they put their meal together and what they have to say about it.

March 25, 2021 - 1:27pm

Above: the Culinary Arts team -- from left Alexa Wolcott, Isaiah Merrell and Sara Logsdon -- answers questions from the judges.

Submitted photos and press release:

In mid-March, three Culinary Arts students from the Batavia Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center participated in the national NASA HUNCH* Culinary Challenge.

According to the judges’ feedback, Isaiah Merrell, Alexa Wolcott, and Sara Logsdon hit a home run with their creation called "Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie"! Isaiah is a senior from Byron-Bergen High School, and Alexa and Sara are both juniors from Pavilion High School.

During the Challenge, this team prepped, prepared and served their recipe to a panel of judges, who scored their recipe based upon taste, texture, aroma and appearance. The scores from the competition were sent to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and will be scored against 26 teams from around the United States.

The teams with the top 10 scores move onto the final round of the competition which will be held in the spring at NASA in Houston. If chosen, their recipe could be sent to the International Space Station for astronauts to enjoy. 

Chef Tracy Burgio is the Culinary Arts instructor at the Genesee Valley BOCES Batavia Campus. She shared how this team of students collaborated and were persistent in creating their recipe.

“This was a process of trial, error, reformulating and much tasting! Isaiah, Alexa, and Sara were determined to make this recipe the absolute best it could be," Burgio said. "They did an amazing job preparing, cooking and presenting their recipe. I’m so very proud of all their efforts."

The panel of judges asked many questions of the team, which the students answered confidently. Isaiah shared how the team arrived at their recipe.

“We were given the food category and guidelines from NASA HUNCH," Isaiah said. "We brainstormed and came up with the idea of Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie."

The recipe process took weeks to perfect.

“I can’t even count how many times we made this recipe and changed ingredients," Isaiah added. "Even the day before this judging, we added two other ingredients to boost the flavor."

When asked about why some of the ingredients were used, Culinary Challenge team member Sara explained.

“The theme this year is comfort foods and we interpreted this recipe to have subtle flavors, but we did add garlic!” Sara said.

She also noted that only certain ingredients could be used in the recipe due to the recipe’s need to be processed and packaged for space travel and for astronaut consumption onboard the International Space Station.

Overall, the judges’ feedback was positive. 

Pauly Guglielmo, the owner of Guglielmo’s Sauce, a food development company, was one of the judges. Over the last few years, Guglielmo’s company has launched a number of new products.

“It’s very difficult to work with these nutritional restraints set by NASA -- I understand!” he told the students.

Jon Sanfratello is the Executive Principal of the GV BOCES Batavia Campus. He noted how this program provides new and unique learning opportunities for the participating students. 

“The students participating in this challenge had a great opportunity to learn about NASA, what astronauts can eat in space, why recipes need to be made a certain way, as well as, all of the nutritional values that need to be tracked while living on the International Space Station," Sanfratello said.

"Over the years, NASA has been a great partner with our programs and has provided many students many learning opportunities.”

The list of judges included: Bill Hayes, Turnbull HVAC; Tom Turnbull, president, Genesee Chamber of Commerce; Eve Hens, Genesee County; Jorden Strapp, GV BOCES; Ann Valento, GCC; Pauly Guglielmo, Guglielmo Sauce; Denise Newman, Artesano Bakery Manager, Rochester Institute of Technology; Christine Grout, senior development officer, St. Ann's Community; Maggie Poray, GV BOCES; Chef Jason Ball, Main Street Pizza Co.

*NASA HUNCH (High schools United with NASA to Create Hardware) was founded as a means of giving high school students new educational experiences by producing many needed elements for the International Space Station. The NASA Culinary HUNCH program gives high school students the opportunity to develop food items for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Each year a new theme is developed. Students create new dishes considering food processing procedures and nutritional requirements in order to meet the standards of the NASA Johnson Space Center Food Lab.

Recipe for Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie (photo above)

Yield: 1 Serving

Calories: 329

Total Fat: 10.1 Grams Saturated Fat: 0.6 Grams Sodium: 163 Grams

Dietary Fibers: 7.1 Grams Sugar: 6.1 Grams


  • 1/2 lb. Sweet Potato
  • 1/4 tsp. Ground Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup Onion
  • 1/4 lb. Ground Turkey Meat
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Tomato Paste
  • 1/2 tsp. Garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. Fresh Oregano
  • 1/8 cup Frozen Peas
  • 1/4 cup Frozen Corn
  • 1/4 cup Carrots
  • 3/4 tsp. Fresh Basil
  • 3/4 tsp. Rosemary
  • 1/2 cup Low Sodium Turkey Broth
  • 1/2 cup Water
  • 1/4 tsp. Thyme
  • 1/8 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. Red Wine Vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp. Butter


Step 1 - Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 2 - Place sweet potatoes in a large pot with boiling water. Cook the potatoes until tender.

Step 3 - Drain the potatoes and mash. Season with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Step 4 - Heat oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Mix in the onions and sauté the onions for 3-4 minutes. Then add garlic and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes.

Step 5 - Add ground turkey and water, crumbling the turkey into small pieces. Cook until all meat is brown.

Step 6 - Stir in tomato paste, carrots, peas, corn, chicken broth, fresh basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary. Let simmer for 3-4 minutes to allow liquid to reduce.

Step 7 - Spread mixture into cast-iron skillets. Top with mashed sweet potatoes. Put in the oven.

Step 8 - Bake for 10-15 Minutes.

Step 9 - Place in a broiler to crisp up the sweet potatoes for 1-2 minutes.

Step 10 - Garnish with thyme and serve.

Photo below: Culinary Challenge judge Pauly Guglielmo, owner of Guglielmo Sauce, rates the students’ culinary creation. 

About the Batavia Career and Technical Education Center

It is a program of the Genesee Valley BOCES. GV BOCES operates as a Board of Cooperative Educational Services offering shared programs and services to 22 component school districts located in Genesee, Wyoming, Livingston and Steuben counties in New York State.

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