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KCTC, GRCC culinary students compete in NASA HUNCH project

Posted at 1:42 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 13:42:00-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The work of a team of Kent Career Tech students collaborating with Grand Rapids Community College leaders might help astronauts someday walk on Mars.

Four KCTC students partnered with the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education to participate in the NASA HUNCH competition, according to a news release Friday.

The grand prize is to have a meal rocketed up to the crew of the ISS, which is studying – among other things – how people can live in space.

NASA scientists are studying how to prepare for potential long-term missions and how to keep astronauts healthy.

Though they didn’t win the top prize, a team from GRCC’s Secchia Institute for Culinary Education last year came close – finishing second in a field of 56 teams.

The team of Elizabeth Afton of East Grand Rapids, Grace Haaksma of Grand Rapids, Olivia Sandoval of Wyoming and Chris Quezada of Kentwood learned a lot about the science behind food preparation.

“One would think that this is a job for the country’s most prestigious experts, and it sure is,” said Chef Werner Absenger, Secchia Institute for Culinary Education director. “But, through the NASA HUNCH Culinary Challenge, high school students play a considerable part in developing food for microgravity to feed astronauts and ensure successful NASA missions. When you think about that, that’s an unbelievable opportunity for high school students who think they want to make a rewarding career in the culinary arts.”

The Secchia team has been working on its chili verde with rice and beans recipe since last August.

The GECOS team had to create a recipe that adhered to NASA's tight nutrition guidelines for microgravity.

"There are many problems students have to deal with and come up with creative solutions," Absenger said. “The team had to research and write a paper on food safety, stability, palatability, resource minimization, variety, reliability and usability."

Out of around 30 schools competing this year, 10 finalists will have an opportunity to travel to Houston to prepare one final version of their dish for judges from Johnson Space Center Food Lab, personnel from the International Space Station and astronauts.

Last year the Secchia Institute Team came in second out of a starting field of 56 schools nationwide.

Thomas Brown and Victoria Uy prepared a dish of Indian butternut squash, mango chicken and brown rice.