Real School Food Challenge Recap: Denver

Real School Food Challenge Recap: Denver

  • June 21, 2018
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On May 16, 2018, we brought our Real School Food Challenge to Denver’s Zeppelin Station for an evening with top-notch chefs and delicious dishes. Every challenge is rewarding for competitors, guests and hosts. Read on for a recap of Denver’s dishes, the inspiration behind them, and find out whose dish was deemed school-lunch worthy.

Anyone who wants to help improve school lunch nutrition can compete in a Real School Food Challenge. Parents, children, home-grown chefs, foodies, and executive-owner chefs all compete to serve up a delicious, nutritious meal that meets USDA nutritional guidelines…all on a school food budget of $1.25 per meal.

“Schools receive roughly $3.25 reimbursement for a free lunch,” explains Danielle Staunton, our Director of Strategic Partnerships. “After wages and other overhead, about $1.25 is left for food.”

What a challenge! Our four Denver competitors were ready for it though.

Hosted by Andra and Kyle Zeppelin at Big Trouble, a hip, chic upstairs bar in Denver’s latest edition to the food hall scene, Max MacKissock (Bar Dough, Señor Bear), Cindhura Reddy (Namkeen, Spuntino), Paul Reilly (Beast & Bottle, Coperta), and James Beard-winning chef Alon Shaya (opening Satfa in soon) brought their A-game and delivered four budget-friendly and creative dishes. But only one took home the winner’s plate.

Host Andra Zeppelin welcomed guests to the Challenge while the chefs put their finishing touches on their dishes and guests enjoyed signature cocktails and beverages from Suerte, Scarpetta, Infinite Monkey Theorem, and Blue Moon Brewery. And then the tasting and judging began.

MacKissock brought a team to help plate up his Yogurt Marinated Chicken dish that included a salad of greens, faro, and carrots two ways.

“We had to make a dish for $1.25, and we came in at $1.08. I thought back to what I liked to eat as a kid, and I loved carrots!”

MacKissock is one half of a well-known Denver duo with a large presence in the restaurant scene. He and his wife have nearly 10 restaurants and kitchens throughout the city.

Another big presence in Denver’s restaurant scene, Reilly prepared a Pork Gyro with Yogurt Sauce, and served apples and sunflower butter alongside it. He was happy and excited to bring his team to the Challenge, especially because he has children of his own, who inspired his dish:

“We’re here to help support school lunches. I think every kid has got to have a healthier lunch, and we can help be a part of the solution of that. I thought of my own kids and what they could be eating at school to create my dish.”

Reddy took a creative approach in presentation by plating up each guest’s dish as they came to her table.

“I want you to have the real lunch line experience, and get to eat hot, fresh, good food from it,” Reddy explained. Taking influences from both Namkeen, where she serves Indian street food inspired dishes, and Spuntino, which captures the essence of Italian simplicity and home, Reddy prepared a Braised Chicken Thigh with Creamy Polenta.

But the kudos of the night go to Shaya, who whipped up hummus topped with a flavorful hearty stew made from tomatoes, chicken, and peas. To round out the dish he served it with a thick slice of fresh whole grain bread and finished the meal with a banana “ice cream,” made from frozen blended bananas with a dash of milk. Children at the event came back for seconds, and at one point, the line backed up while Shaya prepared more hummus.

Shaya is no stranger to school food. Not feeling a pull towards college, he found his home in culinary school, and then decided to share his story with high schoolers. He started the Shaya Barnett Initiative to help bring culinary education back to high school and to make sure high schoolers know of this viable career path. Shaya recognizes the benefit of teaching students how to eat and how to cook from a young age.

“I’m so excited to help figure out creative ways to get really healthy school lunches for every single child in America.”

We celebrated the winner with dessert from Gelato Boy and thanked our guests for their support in our work to help schools serve the best meals possible made from fresh, whole ingredients.

Competitor Reddy said it well: “School funding is an important topic right now, and if you’re going to start somewhere, why not start with nutrition?”

When we feed our children well, they do better in school, they are set up for success in life, and they learn how to eat well for the rest of their lives.

You can host a Challenge of your own to raise awareness and support for changing the way we feed our kids! Gather competitors together, use our toolkit to provide them with the guidelines needed to make a school meal, invite your guests, and then eat, drink, and let guests decide which meal makes the grade. Visit the Real School Food Challenge page to learn more and contact us today to get involved.

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