The Secchia Institute for Culinary Education hosts NASA HUNCH Culinary Challenge

GRCC Culinary students in NASA Culinary Hunch challenge.

2019-2020 Secchia Institute NASA Hunch Victoria and Tom

On Friday, February 21, 2020, Grand Rapids Community College's Secchia Institute for Culinary Education hosted the Michigan regional preliminary challenge for the 2019-2020 NASA HUNCH Astronaut Culinary Challenge (Ethnic Dish) at the Wisner-Bottral Applied Technology Center.

The NASA Hunch Culinary Challenge develops food items for the astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) from a general theme idea. Each year NASA challenges schools with a new theme. Students are asked to create new dishes taking into account food processing procedures and nutritional requirements to meet the standards of the NASA Johnson Space Center Food Lab.

In 2019-2020, nationwide, 52 schools created entrees to be brought into their local center for a taste competition with food industry professionals and center staff.

After these preliminary culinary competitions, 10 teams will be selected from across the nation to come to the Johnson Space Center for the final challenge at Space Center in Houston, Texas.

In Houston, teams will be evaluated by Johnson Space Center Food Lab personnel, industry professionals, the International Space Station (ISS) program office, and Astronauts for quality, taste, their work on the research paper, and presentation video.

The winning entree will be processed by the Johnson Space Center Food Lab and sent up to the International Space Station for the Astronauts to enjoy.

For the Michigan regional challenge, two teams battled against the judges' score sheets at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education. The panel of 19 judges was made up of chefs, industry professionals, healthcare professionals, hospital nutrition services specialists, school employees, students, and school administrators. Each team provided a 4-ounce sample of their dish for each judge.

2019-2020 Secchia Institute NASA Hunch Panel of Judges

The Final Paper: Worth 25% of the NASA Hunch Challenge

The teams also briefly explained their dish to the panel of judges. The students narrated what they learned about cooking in microgravity, and the role nutrition plays in keeping Astronauts healthy in space.

Here the students drew from the information they gained researching a paper about cooking in microgravity, food processing, and food science. Students seemed to particularly wow the judges with their knowledge of the realm of food science concerning a microgravity environment.

To be successful in the NASA Hunch culinary challenge, students needed to take the time to do the proper research to learn about technology and different methods of food processing and engineering. Students also resolved, based on the recipe of choice, what would be the best method of handling for their entrée choice: The hypothesis based on the research.

The Entrée: Worth 60% of the NASA Hunch Challenge

The entrée must process well for flight and use in microgravity. Students also had to prepare and present an ethnic dish that met the following nutritional requirements per serving.

Calories 200-400 cal.

Total Fat: < 12 g

Saturated Fat: < 3 g

Sodium: < 250 mg

Dietary Fiber: ≥ 3.0 g

Participating in the Michigan regional preliminary challenge were teams from RCTC Culinary Arts and Bakery Science Education, in Ypsilanti, and the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education, in Grand Rapids.

The RCTC Culinary Art students Malik Henry and Catherine Manamea, coached by Chef Aaron Gaertner, prepared and presented Banh Xeo.

Banh Xeo is a Vietnamese style crepe. Students incorporated turmeric in this recipe. The crepe was filled with sautéed shrimp, chicken, and thinly sliced carrots, onions, and various peppers. Malik and Catherine also added a bit of a spicy kick.

The Secchia Institute students Victoria Uy and Thomas Brown, coached by Werner Absenger, Ph.D., M.S., put together an Indian Butternut Squash and Mango Chicken with Brown Rice. Victoria and Tom aimed to nutritionally adapt and prepare a sous-vide interpretation of the classic Indian dish. Mango, butternut squash, spinach, and brown rice add fiber. These ingredients also add phytonutrients. Combining macro and micronutrients, the entrée could be enjoyed in microgravity by the Astronauts of the International Space Station.

2019-2020 Secchia Institute NASA Hunch Tom Brown

The Video: Worth 15% of the NASA Hunch Challenge

Coming soon: A two-minute video showing students' work with a brief explanation of what they have learned.

It will take some time for us to find out if a Michigan team will secure one of the ten coveted spots at the final cook-off. The ten finalists will be going to Houston to prepare their dish at Johnson Space Center at Space Center in Houston, Texas. The winning team's entrée will be made by NASA and shuttled to the International Space Station.

The Secchia Institute for Culinary Education: Affordable, local, and one of America's leading culinary schools. Launching tomorrow's culinary leaders.

Find out more about our programs at the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education.

Vision: As a college of distinction, Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) inspires students to meet the needs of the community and the world.

Mission: GRCC is an open-access college that prepares individuals to attain their goals and contribute to the community.