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Fridays in the Food Lab: Cooking Competition Edition

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Three students working together to create an asian pear dish.

A group of students on Team Gluten-Free preparing a dessert with Asian pear.

Five groups of students entered the NYU Food Lab to face off in a cooking competition. While Team Locavore took home the top prize, every group emerged a winner.

The competition, hosted by the NYU Steinhardt Department of Nutrition and Food Studies as a part of its educational Fridays in the Food Lab programming series, featured collaborative teams spanning the department—representing undergraduate and graduate students concentrating in both nutrition and food studies.

Each team was tasked with cooking a menu in the spirit of a specific culinary style: gluten-free, vegan, locavore, kosher, or allergen-free (no nuts, dairy, eggs, or soy). As a part of National Nutrition Month, the event also emphasized the concepts of health and sustainability by requiring students to create recipes that minimized food waste and met various nutrition guidelines.

“Human health is tied to planetary health, and our nutrition and food studies programs are at the intersection of both. I created this event so that both student bodies could come together to work on a challenge collectively,” said Lourdes Castro, Culinary Director of the NYU Food Lab and creator of Fridays in the Food Lab.

After 3.5 hours in the kitchen, students lowered their knives and presented their menus to a panel of judges:

  • Krishnendu Ray: Professor and Chair of the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies
  • Colleen Grapes: Executive Pastry Chef
  • Lauren Kremer: RD, Nutritionist
  • Anita Lo: Michelin-Starred Chef
  • Melissa Metrick: NYU Urban Farm Manager and Adjunct Instructor
Judges standing in a circle during the Food Lab cooking competition.

Judges mingling before tasting each menu.

Ultimately, the judges selected Team Locavore as the winner, praising their menu of pear and blue cheese crostini, roasted chicken, handmade pea shoot pasta, bean soup, apple ginger crostata, and wheatberry salad with a sustainably made vegetable-top pesto.

“[Creating this menu] was a collaborative process. We combined our ideas into one menu so everyone was represented, and then asked ourselves, ‘How close can we get to the source?’” said Team Locavore member and food studies master’s student Jessica Weaver.

Each ingredient used in their dishes originated as close to NYU’s campus as possible.

Team Locavore standing behind a table displaying their dishes.

Team Locavore’s spread won the Judge’s Choice Award.

However, it was Team Gluten-Free that took home both the Nutritional Superiority Award for creating the healthiest dishes per serving size and the People’s Choice Award for wowing the members of the general public in attendance.

This team’s menu centered around tofu as the star ingredient.

“We used all forms of tofu—noodles, silken, firm—we just wanted to show that with one source of protein you can get so many flavors and textures,” said Christina Son, an undergraduate in the department.

Their menu featured dishes like pickled lotus root, edamame guacamole with flax crackers, tofu, bean curd salad, and tropical sago pudding.

Congratulations to all participants! 

Photos courtesy of Ken Castronuovo.

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