Student Chefs Cook for Top Prize

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It's not often that Chicken Lo Mein gets the respect it deserves. But last week a healthy version of the cooked noodle dish won top prize in a competition that pitted two teams of student chefs against each other in the name of learning nutrition and cooking skills.

The event was the culmination of Teen Battle Chef, a nine-week health and wellness program at Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx.

“It’s a good opportunity for students to learn how to cook on their own and to make healthier meals for their families,” said Ralph Thomas, a representative of the Montefiore Medical Center's School Health Program which organized the course and competition. “Now they know what goes in the food.”

Dashea Lashley, a junior on the winning team, said the program taught her which foods are best for her body. She suffers from sickle cell anemia, the symptoms of which are somewhat alleviated by certain foods.

“A lot of healthy food people take as ‘ew, yuck’ because it’s green,” said Lashley. “But I love spinach. And I need it because of my condition.”

It also gave her something to brag about. “I can prove to my mom that I can cook,” she said. “She doesn’t believe me.”

The Montefiore program provides nutritional and medical services to about 40 schools in Bronx neighborhoods where there are high rates of obesity, diabetes, and other health issues.

“Obesity rates in the Bronx are overwhelming,” said Cheriss Howell, a nurse at Dewitt Clinton’s health clinic. “At least 70 percent of the students that come through the clinic have a high BMI.”

She said the cooking program has helped get the information to the kids in a creative way. A student on the runner-up team agreed, saying she caught the cooking bug.

“I like making dinners from scratch. It’s real,” said senior Karisma Singley. “It gives me a satisfaction to know that I made that.”

Her team prepared Coconut Shrimp Curry.

Ralph Thomas from Montefiore Hospital advises Karisma Singley on her team's curry dish.