“Iron Chef” – MEH Husky Style

By Julie Walters
Falls Church Times Staff
January 28, 2014

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, more than 40 Mary Ellen Henderson 7th graders competed in the school’s second annual “Husky Chef” cooking contest. Based on the popular TV show “Iron Chef,” the award winning “Husky Chef” competition is the culmination of each academic quarter’s required course in Family and Consumer Science (a 21st Century version of Home Economics). By the end of this school year, every 7th grader in Falls Church city will have participated in a cook-off with their classmates.

IMG_6625The competition is not simple. The 7th graders spend weeks working in teams of between 4-6 students to plan menus that fit within the USDA guidelines for a healthy school lunch. These guidelines include considerations such as portion maximums and minimums of protein and fruits or vegetables, and fat and sodium content of the meal. Further, the menu must fit into an extremely tight budget. This year’s budget is $2.25 per serving — which must cover the main course as well as any side dishes. After the students research the nutritional value and cost of their desired ingredients, they then shop for everything they need at a nearby grocery store.

On the day of the cooking competition, the teams have one hour to cook and serve their lunches to a panel of judges (local chefs, restaurant owners, school administrators, and local restaurant reviewers). The meals are judged on taste, presentation, originality, and whether the students worked well together as a team. The winning team from each of the two class sections will later help prepare and serve their meal for lunch to the entire MEH student body (hence the requirement that the meals follow USDA school lunch guidelines). They also, of course, win bragging rights among their peers.

This week’s competition yielded two winning teams whose meals will soon appear on the school lunch menu at MEH. Monday’s winner was team “Kill ‘em” (the other judges and I assumed they meant this in a good way). The six-person team won with a whole wheat pasta served with chicken, sun dried tomato, and pesto, with a strawberry and pineapple kabob on the side.

Tuesday’s winning team, “Awesome Sauce,” won with a mac ‘n cheese with a homemade sauce, spicy baked chicken wings, and celery sticks served with two dipping sauces – ranch dressing and a little extra cheese sauce from the mac ‘n cheese.

IMG_6628The “Husky Chef” program won a 2013 Virginia State Excellence award for “exemplary programs and partnerships that promote excellence in career and technical education.” It is the brain child of FCCPS Food Service Director, Richard Kane, who, along with Food Service Operations Manager Niki Wisemiller, supervises and supports the students throughout their preparation for the competition. Niki Wisemiller believes that, through cooking, the 7th graders learn important math skills and incorporate many other areas of study, such as nutrition, history, and economics. “When they learn in theory,” she said, “it’s abstract for them. But, when they learn in a hands on way, they can incorporate their knowledge much more deeply.”


Julie Walters is a resident of Falls Church and writes children’s books (mostly about food). She’s the daughter of a food editor, the wife of a man who knows his Louisiana cuisine, and the mother of a 5 year old with a ridiculously sophisticated palate. You can reach her at [email protected].

(All photos copyright: Julie Walters)

January 28, 2014 


Feel free to leave a comment. Please increase the credibility of your post by including your FULL NAME and CITY. All comments are subject to editing for courtesy and content.