A recipe created by three students in Genesee Valley BOCES’ culinary class has been selected as one of 10 finalists in the NASA HUNCH Culinary Challenge.
Isaiah Merrell, a senior from Byron-Bergen Central School; and Alexa Wolcott and Sara Logsdon, juniors from Pavilion Central School, participated in the national competition to create a meal for the astronauts in space.
According to information from Maggie Fitzgibbon, in Public Relations at BOCES, the students’ recipe hit a home run with the judges.
This is the fourth year Genesee Valley BOCES culinary students have participated in the competition, but the first time they have been a top finalist. Fitzgibbon said the competition was started by NASA more than 20 years ago to involve high students.
In a normal year, up to 80 schools might participate, but due to COVID-19 this year, only 26 teams competed, she said. The competition was canceled completely last year.
Recipe was Judged on Taste, Texture, Aroma, Appearance
During the challenge, the team of students prepped, prepared and served their recipe to a panel of local judges, who scored their recipe based upon taste, texture, aroma and appearance.
The scores were sent to the Johnson Space Center’s Food Lab in Houston, Texas, where they will be scored against the other teams from around the United States. The teams with the top 10 scores will move into the final round of the competition, which is expected to take place within the next few weeks. If chosen, their recipe could be sent to the International Space Station for astronauts to enjoy.
Chef Tracy Burgio, Culinary Arts instructor at the Batavia campus, 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,” she said. “Isaiah, Alexa and Sara were determined to make this recipe the absolute best it could be. They did an amazing job preparing, cooking and presenting their recipe. I’m so proud of all their efforts.”
The panel of judges included Bill Hayes from Turnbull Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning; Tom Turnbull from Genesee County Chamber of Commerce; Eve Hens with Genesee County; Jorden Strapp with Genesee Valley BOCES; Ann Valento from Genesee Community College; Pauly Guglielmo, founder and CEO of Guglielmo Sauce; Denise Newman, Artesano bakery manager at the Rochester Institute of Technology; Christine Grout, senior development officer at St. Ann’s Community; Maggie Poray with Genesee Valley BOCES; and chef Jason Ball from Main Street Pizza Company.
Fitzgibbon reported that Hayes said he doesn’t like sweet potatoes, but that dish was so delicious that he ate it all.
NASA's Nutritional Restraints Don't Make Things Easy
Guglielmo, of the Guglielmo’s Sauce food development company, said his company has launched a number of new products over the last few years, and he understands the restrictions placed by NASA.
“It’s very difficult to work with these nutritional restraints set by NASA,” he said.
The judges asked many questions of the team. Isaiah revealed how they arrived at their recipe.
“We were given the food category and guidelines from NASA HUNCH,” Isaiah said.
The students said they put their heads together to develop their recipe. Each year the competition has a theme, and this year’s was comfort food.
“We wanted to make something we had growing up,” Alexa said. “We thought about it being winter and what food we leaned on to feel good.”
“We also wanted something unique to our region,” Isaiah said.
Adding sweet potatoes to shepherd’s pie was a new twist, and it was achieved with a lot of trial and error, the students said. They are sweet and they wanted the dish to be savory.
They chose sweet potatoes because regular potatoes are too high in fat, Isaiah said.
“The recipe took weeks to perfect,” he said. “I can’t even count how many times we made this recipe and changed ingredients. Even the day before the judging we added two other ingredients to boost the flavor.”
Their recipe had to contain no more than ¾ teaspoon of butter, 150 milligrams or less of sodium, and be between 200 and 400 calories.
“We interpreted this recipe to have subtle flavors,” Sara said. “But we did add garlic.”
Recipe to be Processed and Packaged to Eat in Outer Space
Sara added that only certain ingredients could be used due to the recipe having to be processed and packaged for space travel and for astronaut consumption onboard the International Space Station.
The students’ sweet potato shepherd’s pie contains pepper, olive oil, onion, ground turkey, tomato paste, garlic, fresh oregano, frozen peas, frozen corn, carrots, fresh basil, rosemary, low sodium turkey broth, water, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, red wine vinegar and butter.
The students met with a chef in Louisville, Ky., via Zoom, who tried to replicate their dish from the NASA competition.
“We documented every step for him,” Isaiah said.
“The students participating in this challenge had a great opportunity to learn about NASA, what astronauts can eat in space, and 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,” said Jon Sanfratello, executive principal of the GV BOCES Batavia Campus.
“Over the years, NASA has been a great partner with our programs and has provided our students many learning opportunities.”
The top 10 winners will each receive a scholarship. The next level of the competition will choose the top three recipes, and those students will receive a bigger scholarship. Students whose recipe is the top winner will receive an all-expenses-paid scholarship to Sullivan University in Louisville.
Top photo: Chef Tracy Burgio points out meat options to three students in her culinary class at Genesee Valley BOCES who developed a recipe for astronauts. From left are Alexa Wolcott and Sara Logsdon, juniors at Pavilion Central School; and Isaiah Merrell, a senior from Byron-Bergen Central School.
Bottom photo from left: Alexa Wolcott, Isaiah Merrell and Sara Logsdon, students in the culinary class at Genesee Valley BOCES, and their instructor, Chef Tracy Burgio.
Photos by Virginia Kropf.
Photo below (submitted), the sweet potato shepherd’s pie, which three students in the GV BOCES culinary class created for NASA.