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Student chefs create healthy recipes from food in high school’s pantry

A prize-winning healthy lunch was served by culinary students George WashingtHigh School 3535 E. 114Th St. Thursday. (from left) Daisy

A prize-winning healthy lunch was served by culinary students at George Washington High School, 3535 E. 114Th St., Thursday. (from left) Daisy Ramirez, 16, Maya Banuelo, 16, Jose Perez,18, Ignacio Ramirez,18, and Francisco Ramirez,16, served Chicken Ranchero. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 12, 2013 2:34PM

“You guys want cheese?” Emanuel Zetina, 18, asked a woman Thursday at lunch in his school gym, as he plated his Chicken Rancheros. He turned to another woman: “Quieres cilantro?”

Zetina and culinary arts classmates from George Washington High School showed off their skills Thursday, serving the recipes they developed for the Cooking for Change contest of the Healthy Schools Campaign to parents and school friends.

And about 300,000 Chicago Public Schools students across the district enjoyed the same healthy menu: the chicken dish, roasted corn with cayenne and parmesan, and fruit salad with cinnamon and yogurt.

Washington’s Culinary Arts students won a citywide contest challenging students to use supplies from a school’s pantry, follow USDA guidelines for feeding schoolchildren and lure students into lunch with healthy yet tasty fare.

Zetina had helped come up with the Chicken Rancheros recipe and its secret ingredient to punch up flavor while skirting a ban on table salt: soy sauce.

“It gives it a good taste. It brings out the taste in the chicken,” said Zetina, a senior and a seasoned student chef, as “Chef Foxy,” as culinary mentor Laniecia Anderson is known, looked on.

Daisy Ramirez, a 16-year-old junior, served the dessert she had made early in the morning: a fruit salad made from canned peaches and grapes, in a cinnamon yogurt sauce.

Between them, Maya Banuelos, 16, offered Elotes “Washington,” substituting the mayonnaise on the roasted corn salad with a low-fat variety.

Leo Gutierrez, 18, explained how to get away with the faux mayo: Add lemon juice.

“It fixes it,” he explained.

Like most of their classmates, Banuelos and Gutierrez spend their free time cooking. She’s a baker at heart.

“I find it very relaxing for me,” she said. “It’s what I do to unwind.”

Gutierrez prefers traditional Mexican dishes he learned from his mother, such as tamales and pozole. He’ll be one of the six students from the East Side school who’ll represent Chicago in Washington, D.C., in June to compete nationally with Washington’s recipes. The winners’ fare will be served to members of Congress.

Meanwhile, the students — who can take up to three levels of culinary classes at Washington — are learning how to plan, how to act professionally and how to adapt quickly when things don’t go their way.

The chicken dish originally started with tofu, Anderson explained.

“We tasted it, the kids were like ‘no,’ ” she said. “The great thing about being a chef is you can take something and run with it.”

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