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How Randolph’s burrito won a spot on the School District menu

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Every full-service cafeteria across the School District has been serving up a piece of student ingenuity.

Last year’s Culinary Voice Competition, held at the Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center and hosted by the School District and the city Department of Public Health’s “Get Healthy Philly” initiative, challenged students to create a healthy, tasty dish for school breakfast menus.

The winning dish was Randolph High School culinary students’ “Breakfast Burrito.”

The start of the 2015-16 school year brought the apple, sausage, and cheddar burrito to students all around the city.

“It’s served in the cafeteria almost every week,” said Kiara Foster, an 11th-grade member of the winning team.

“It’s cool to see what we made in the hands of our classmates,” she added.

To create the prize-winning burrito, the team of six spent a month developing a balance between what students like to eat and what they need to eat for adequate nutritional intake. And they had to make sure that their ingredients list didn’t stray from the available items that Food Services could provide.

Federal guidelines required that their meal include a fruit or vegetable, a whole grain, and a protein.

“We came up with the idea of a burrito, because most students need something quick, something they can just grab and go with in the morning before classes start,” said Ayanna Williams, an 11th-grade team member.

Trial and error was the group’s most effective strategy.

“We originally had cinnamon in the burrito,” said India Rouse, the team’s runner. “But it didn’t taste good, so we changed the recipe.”

The team also debated about how to incorporate sauces.

“We went back and forth about where we should place the sour cream and the salsa. Some of us thought they were good inside, but we ended up decorating the plate with both,” said Raine Roberts, a junior on the team.

Kayla Wilson, another team member, took the recipe home and made it for her three younger siblings. “They were my test dummies. They liked it and kept asking for more,” said Wilson.

Harvey Finkle
Since the burritos hit the cafeteria, the team has had the chance to observe students’ reactions. “When it was first served in the cafeteria, a lot of people thought it was weird because it had apples in it,” said Rouse, “they would pick the apples out.” But over time, students started getting used to the combination. “I think a lot of them didn’t really think that apples and sausage and cheese can go together, but we showed them how we can be creative with food,” said Roberts. The weeks of practice leading up to the competition helped the team solidify their concept, and also prepared them for curveballs that came their way on competition day. “They were used to making the burritos with precooked sausages,” explained chef Michael Bell, one of Randolph’s culinary teachers who guided the team to success. “But at the competition, the sausages were not precooked.” Another glitch was that the team practiced with fresh Granny Smith apples, but received packaged Red Delicious apples. “The fresh Granny Smiths are crisp and tart and lend themselves well to the cheddar and sausage they were working with, while the Red Delicious apples tend to be mushy,” said Bell. But these setbacks didn’t slow the team down. With 20 minutes to make the six burritos for the judges, the team worked together to improvise and play their parts. “We were so scared at the five-minute mark,” said Roberts, “but we pulled through.” Subsequently, the team had an hour to make about 400 burritos for a waiting audience. “There is a harmony that has to take place in order to turn out hundreds of burritos and to turn out beautiful, well-designed plates for the judges,” Bell said. “With each and every one’s participation, they were playing a song. The song they played was with food, plates, and knives.” The team is looking forward to the next challenge, but the Culinary Voice competition is on hiatus as the District considers ways to expand the reach of the program. The other schools are beginning to talk about us, team members remarked, citing some friendly competition. “At their age, with their ability, I’d put them up against anything,” Bell said.

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