Burnet High School culinary arts students make up one of 10 high school teams from across the country that have a shot at sending a dish to the International Space Station.
On April 22, judges will decide if the Bulldogs’ Creamy Chicken Frances is truly out of this world.
“This is a very challenging and, at times, difficult competition,” said Burnet culinary arts teacher Mike Erickson. “It’s not just coming up with a great recipe. NASA has a lot of requirements that the kids have to take into consideration when they came up with the recipe.”
The contest is part of NASA’s HUNCH program started in 2003 to give high school students a chance to make items, including food, for the International Space Station.
This year’s theme is Healthy Comfort Food.
“Honestly, it was probably one of the toughest ones they could have picked,” Erickson said.
The students had to develop a recipe that took into account how space would effect the ingredients as well as follow NASA nutritional standards and requirements. Those requirements limit the use of ingredients such as cream, salt, and pasta — all key in comfort food recipes.
“Then, the kids have to consider how things taste different in space, so you have to kind of punch it up,” Erickson said. “But how do you do that since you can’t use salt?”
Burnet students initially submitted two recipes: Smoked Shrimp Grits and Creamy Chicken Frances. The chicken dish won in the early rounds and advanced.
The young chefs had to create a sauce that met NASA standards — no cream — but still tasted like a cream sauce. They used zucchini noodles in place of pasta.
Students also have to submit a research paper on their recipe and video presentation. The paper counts for 25 percent of the final score; the video, 15 percent.
“So, it’s not just about the recipe. The kids have to do a lot of research and then show what they did,” Erickson said.
In previous HUNCH culinary competitions, finalists would travel to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for judging. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials are live streaming the final event on Thursday, April 22. Chefs from the Sullivan University culinary arts program of Louisville, Kentucky, are making the dishes and will serve as judges.
Along with a chance to send their recipe into space, students could land scholarships to Sullivan University, which has a renowned culinary arts program.
“The kids have done a tremendous amount of work to get this far,” Erickson said. “But, in the end, it’s been kind of a fun project — the type of year it’s been and all.”