West Grand enters NASA Culinary Challenge

photo by Marissa Lorenz Jacob Murphy and Joe Manguso prepare the “comfort food” for the NASA Culinary Challenge to be judged.
photo by Marissa Lorenz Jacob Murphy and Joe Manguso prepare the “comfort food” for the NASA Culinary Challenge to be judged.

by Marissa Lorenz
West Grand students participated in the preliminary round of judging for the 2020-2021 NASA Hunch Culinary Challenge on Wednesday, February 24.

West Grand senior Jacob Murphy and junior Joe Manguso prepared an Indian-spiced tomato soup with grilled cheese sandwiches, presenting their interpretation of “healthy comfort food,” this year’s predetermined theme, for evaluation by nearly a dozen judges.

The team, which also includes senior Tylor Ususan, has had to work within the Challenge’s nutritional guidelines to select
and develop two recipes that may eventually be served on the International Space Station (ISS).

Recipes had to provide between 200-400 calories; have equal to or less than 12 grams of fat, 250 milligrams of sodium, and 8 grams of sugar; and have 3 or more grams of dietary fiber.

Students noted that they thought of the classic combination because it fits within the given ingredient and nutritional restrictions and “tastes good and makes you feel good.”

Students chose the recipes in the fall, while simultaneously learning about “food processing and food in microgravity.” They submitted the recipe ideas to the NASA Hunch program in November and, in December, were selected to continue to the first round of taste testing.

Murphy describes finding a tasty recipe that “was able to meet the nutritional standards” as the greatest challenge they faced. And Manguso noted that it took “lots of experimentation.”

In the end, the students presented a soup with a definite spicy flair, using such spices as turmeric, cayenne, cumin, ginger, garlic, and cilantro.

“Food loses its flavor in space,” Murphy described, “so we sought spice so it wouldn’t taste dull.”

Event Judge and NASA Ambassador Dave Schlichting affirmed the decision, explaining that taste buds don’t function the same way in the space environment and that, therefore, “astronauts really like spice.”

Other judges included area chefs Shawn Wheatley of the Grand Old West and Jon Harvey of the Dean West; educator and co-founder of Colorado Aerolabs, Jess Buller; Grand County Airport Supervisor and space/culinary enthusiast Josh Schroeder; wildlife biologist Tifany Rubalcaba; and other area residents.

Students took comments and responded to all questions while the judges submitted evaluations, judging the sensory experience of the dish, including taste, texture, aroma, and appearance.

Those teams that are judged to be the winners of the preliminary competition will advance to a final competition, traditionally held at Johnson Space Center in Houston. However, due to COVID-19 concerns, last year’s event was held virtually. This year’s plans
still seem to be undecided.

“This is the second year we have competed in the NASA Hunch Culinary Challenge,” noted teacher Emmylou Harmon. “Most students who compete are from culinary schools or after-school programs. These gentlemen worked hard to meet the guidelines set forth, practiced making their dish even when school was virtual and they had to come to the school. I am proud of their dedication during this difficult year and hope they earn the privilege of competing in the finals.”

All finalists are awarded $12,000 scholarships to Sullivan University in Kentucky towards a degree in either culinary arts; baking and pastry arts; travel, tourism, and event management; or hotel and restaurant management. The top three teams receive $20,000, $40,000, or full tuition towards any of the given programs.

Additional scholarships are offered through the American Culinary Federation.

The West Grand team has yet to submit final papers and videographies of the experience. They will be notified of final selection in late spring.

For more information about the NASA Hunch Culinary program, go to hunchculinary.com.