Food Truck Wars: CPS students compete for the best food truck recipe

Food Truck Wars: CPS students compete for the best food truck recipe

Josue Cervantes learned to cook from the women in his family. His mother shared her mother’s recipes and his grandmother shared his great-grandmother’s recipes. Now Josue wants to open his own restaurant one day.

“I’ve always told (my mom) that I want to bring back hidden gems that aren’t really represented here in the United States and are often found in Mexico,” said Josue, 17. “I want to… bring new flavors and people a new palette so they can get a little insight into what Mexico really is.”

Josue has honed his skills through CPS’s Career and Technical Education Program at North-Grand High School, 4338 W. Wabansia Ave. at Humboldt Park.

The engineering program takes lessons from everyday classes, such as math and science, to deliver training in real-world workplaces, such as the culinary and hospitality fields.

“When they go to culinary arts college or some other pathway, the skills they learn are transferable and valuable to our students,” said Sherry Franklin, CPS Instructional Support Specialist.

On Friday, Josue and a team of five others demonstrated some of those skills in a food truck themed competition against three other schools.

Candace Williams, 35, a culinary chef instructor at Manley Career Academy High School, helps Manley students (center) Layla Sylvester, 17, and Antonio Anderson, 17, set up their “Burrito Baby” booth during the ” Food Truck Wars” event on Friday.

Each school presented business plans for a truck, along with a menu. They then offered samples that the students had cooked at school that morning.

Manley Career Academy’s Burrito Baby truck featured breakfast burrito bowls; Roberto Clemente School’s truck called Stuff It offered chicken gyros. North-Grand decided to evoke the nostalgia of 90s babies.

“We wanted to bring back some hidden memories that were locked inside of us teenagers and adults,” said Josue. He said the goal was to evoke the feeling of watching cartoons on a Saturday morning. So they created The Krusty Sponge, featuring SpongeBob SquarePants-inspired crabby patties (a veggie burger sold in the cartoon).

That effort earned North-Grand honors for best food truck design, for their colorful burgers and lemonade, as well as for best pitch.

Burgers and fries prepared by North-Grand High School students.

Burgers and fries prepared by North-Grand High School students for the “Food Truck Wars,” a cooking competition hosted by Chicago Public Schools in Englewood Community Kitchen. The students created a food truck inspired by “The Krusty Sponge” by SpongeBob SquarePants.

But it was Vaughn Occupational’s wide range of ice creams — hand-churned and made with herbs from their hydroponic garden — that won the best recipe.

Among the judges were representatives from across the culinary industry, including Hill Food Services Consulting, Aramark Food Services and Everfi, which offers a program in which students drive a simulated food truck.

“One thing I was looking for was the depth of concept they wanted to bring to this food truck,” said Jonathan Barnes, an Everfi judge. “Food trucks are super popular, so we were looking for really innovative concepts, but also really good food.”

Barnes said Vaughn’s ice cream was the best he’d ever tasted.

“You can taste the fun they had making it and the hard work they put into finding the right balance and the right combinations,” he said.

Anthony McPhee, program director at Careers through Culinary Arts Programs, was shocked that the students had churned the ice cream by hand.

“It tastes delicious,” he said. “This would easily be a $3 to $5 scale. And they have their own yard—that’s a great example of farm-to-table out there.”

Vaughn’s Fruitastic Herbalicious Frozen Treats ice cream, prepared by students at Vaughn Occupational High School, won best recipe in the “Food Truck Wars” competition.

Everfi’s Anna Urban urged the students to seek more opportunities to get involved in the culinary arts. “Keep trying and keep working on it. It’s such a rewarding career field that I feel like all these kids could really do well.”

Many students shared stories similar to Josue’s on Friday. Vaughn’s 22-year-old Gustavo Patino became interested in culinary after watching his mother cook for the family. Tatianna Bowlton (17) from Clemente always followed her grandfather in the kitchen. And Antonio Anderson, 17, who goes to Manley, said his mother asked him for help when he was little.

Therefore, Tatianna said that there was no resentment towards the winners.

“We are still proud,” Tatianna said, adding that Friday was more about the experience than going home with an award.

But she and all the other students were surprised when Dr. Brian Hill, owner of Hill Food Service Consulting, said they would get $100 each to buy monogrammed chef’s jackets.

“I want a pink one,” Tatianna said with a laugh.

Cynthia Sandoval, a North-Grand High School student, learns that all students in the Food Truck Wars competition would receive $100 to buy their own chef's jackets.

Like the other students, Cynthia Sandoval (right), who attends North-Grand High School, was surprised to learn that all students in the Food Truck Wars competition would receive $100 to buy their own chef’s jackets.

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