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Burnet culinary arts students creating out-of-this-world dish for NASA contest

Burnet High School culinary arts students enter NASA contest

Burnet High School culinary arts students could send one of their dishes into space. NASA invited the program to enter its contest to develop a dish for astronauts aboard the International Space Station. NASA photo

Burnet High School culinary arts students have an assignment waiting for them, and class doesn’t even start until Aug. 20. This assignment could send them — well, their culinary creation — to space.

NASA invited the Burnet students to create an entry for its annual project-based learning program called HUNCH. Initially, the program was for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) students across the United States, but the space agency opened it up to the culinary arts a few years ago.

“NASA has a food lab, and, obviously, they need to feed astronauts,” said Chef Mike Erickson, Burnet High School’s culinary arts teacher. 

HUNCH started with about seven Houston-area schools competing but has since spread to 277 schools in 44 states. 

In the culinary arts competition, Erickson said, students develop a dish that astronauts can enjoy while aboard the International Space Station. This year’s theme is healthier comfort food.

“My first instinct is we have to do something Texas,” Erickson said. 

Like a brisket or something similar, he added.

The assignment will be more difficult than usual. Students will need to study how space would affect the biochemistry of their creation, from the main ingredient to spices, as well as follow NASA requirements.

“Even your tastebuds change in space,” Erickson said. “So, something might taste strange here on Earth, but it might taste great in space. So, you have to keep that in mind. We have to develop something that’s deep and flavorful.”

Students also must write a thesis and shoot a video on what they’ve learned about food processing and microgravity. 

The video is due to NASA by Oct. 31. Dish ideas are due Nov. 20 to HUNCH program manager Allison Westover. 

During the preliminary round in February, the Burnet team will get to travel to Houston to cook their dish in person while teams farther away will have to rely solely on their videos — an advantage for Burnet. Judges will then narrow the entries to the top 10, who will all travel to the Johnson Space Center in the spring for the final challenge. 

“We’re going to learn along the way,” Erickson said. “It’s not something we’ve ever done before, but the kids are going love the challenge. And, I’ve already come up with a name for them: the Space Dawgs.”