It’s that time of year, again. The dishes are in and the judges have made their decision; first place goes to… New York City’s Kristopher Lopez, whose execution of Faux –lafels proved to be a hit!
For the last three years now, AICR has partnered with the C-CAP (Careers through Culinary Arts Programs) for their annual cooking competition. High school students enrolled in vocational culinary programs are encouraged to submit a recipe, given specific guidelines, in the hopes that they will have the winning recipe. This year students created small plates or appetizers that followed AICR’s evidence-based guidelines for lowering cancer risk.
Here, Kristopher shares his experience in the competition, what inspires him, and his plans for the future.
Was it challenging to develop a dish given AICR’s nutrition guidelines?
Yes, it was a little challenging because I was asked to work with ingredients that I was unfamiliar with and that I don’t really deal with coming from a Puerto Rican background. The development process involved a lot of research of ingredients as well as trial and error. An initial idea I came up with was rice balls, but with the help of my instructor I decided that quinoa was a logical substitution for rice because of all of its positive health qualities.
Since you will be starting culinary school in the fall, have you begun to think about what you want your focus to be? What areas of the food industry are you interested in?
I’m still kind of undecided on the cuisine and career route I will focus on. I’m positive I want to stick to the Culinary Arts and mastering those skills. I really want to travel in order to explore cuisines from around the world so I can incorporate them into my cooking style. I am a fan of Japanese cuisine for its ease in preparation and simplicity. When I’m satisfied with the knowledge I have gained, I would like to open a food truck and travel around the country. It may feature a fusion of Japanese and Spanish cuisine, but my culture will definitely be an influence.
What is your favorite cuisine to cook and what do you like about it?
I love Italian food, especially pastas. I like how versatile they are and the combination of sauces and noodles. There are so many possible combinations, which allows me to be creative in the preparation.
With the focus of this competition being healthy food options, how do you try to incorporate healthy eating into your lifestyle?
A lot of my exposure to healthy foods came while I was working at Mulberry & Vine. It is an eatery that is very health focused and promotes eating fresh ingredients. Protein alternatives as well as lean meats were a constant on their menu. The restaurant even had a chart with all the ingredients we used that listed their health benefits. I was able to look at this daily and was constantly learning new things about the food I was preparing. Working there also allowed me to explore and try new things. I always try to have an open mind when it comes to trying food that I am not familiar with.
A lot of people in your age group – as well as those older and younger – think that it is impossible for healthy foods to be delicious. How would you convince them otherwise?
I would show them. I like to cook things for people and not tell them all the ingredients that are in it. This way they will taste the dish with an open mind and when I tell them what is in it, have a different reaction to the particular ingredient. Usually people will look at an ingredient like tofu for example and call it nasty, but tofu is a great ingredient because it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with and many people don’t realize that. I think it is very important for people to be open-minded about trying new foods.
I like to cook things for people and not tell them all the ingredients that are in it…. Usually people will look at an ingredient like tofu for example and call it nasty, but tofu is a great ingredient because it takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with and many people don’t realize that.
Another of AICR’s focuses is on healthy kids. How important do you think it is for children to be educated on proper nutrition?
I think it has become a lot more important these days especially with the current obesity rates in children. I can see why it is important. I also think that if we start them at a younger age, it will be easier for them to adopt healthy eating habits and they will be more likely to continue those habits as they grow.
What’s the most unique or weirdest food you’ve ever tried?
Spanish blood sausage that was stuffed with rice and different spices. It was interesting.
AICR would like to congratulate Kristopher along with our other CCAP winners, Jenna Kraus and Margaret DeMarco. You can find all the winning recipes on our AICR/C-CAP SuperFoods Competitions page.