Top Chefs Join Forces to Elevate DMV Student Teams in Real Food for Kids Culinary Challenge

Real Food for Kids, a McLean, Va.-based nonprofit that focuses on enhancing school food quality, will be hosting its 12th Annual Culinary Challenge this Saturday.

A total of sixteen teams comprising high school and middle school students from various public schools across Washington, D.C., and surrounding counties such as Arlington, Prince William, Loudoun, Fairfax, Harrisonburg, and Montgomery will showcase their culinary skills. The challenge will revolve around creating and presenting plant-based breakfast, snack, and lunch dishes that comply with specific ingredient criteria and USDA nutrition standards.

The judging panel for this year includes notable personalities from the culinary industry, such as Chef-Owner of Moon Rabbit, Kevin Tien, and Director of Culinary Operations at The Inn at Little Washington, Julian Eckhardt. Other esteemed judges joining the panel are Chef-Owner of Caruso’s Grocery, Matt Adler; Co-Founder of RASA, Rahul Vinod; Director of Premium Brand Experiences at Marriott International, Nura Mendez; Founder of Cookology/Metropolitan Culinary Arts Institute, Maria Kopsidas; Director of Facility Management at DC Central Kitchen, Ed Lichorat; and Owner of El Tamarindo, Ana Reyes.

Adding to the excitement, this year’s student culinary mentor is the Executive Chef and Co-Founder of Silver Diner, Ype Von Hengst.

Last year, Takoma Park Middle School emerged as the champion, impressing the judges with their spin on traditional Ethiopian dishes. Their winning entries included Ethio-nada, Atakilt Wot, and Ethiopian Spris, demonstrating innovation and cultural diversity in their dishes.

Takoma Park Middle School has dominated the Real Food For Kids Culinary Challenge in recent years, securing victories in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2023.

The public is welcome to join and take part in tasting the student-prepared dishes between noon and 1:15 p.m. They can also cast their votes for their favorite dishes in each category to help decide the recipients of the “Community Choice” awards. Doors open at 10:45 a.m., followed by a chef cooking demonstration at 11:15 a.m. featuring Joon’s chefs Najmieh Batmanglij and Chris Morgan, both James Beard semi-finalists.

The demonstration will be moderated by Bonnie S. Benwick, former deputy food editor for The Washington Post.

The Real Food For Kids Culinary Challenge will take place on Saturday, March 2, from 8:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria. The event is free and open to the public, offering a unique opportunity to engage with the community and support young culinary talents. For more information and details, visit

Photo Courtesy of Real Food For Kids

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