Food Truck Wars: CPS students fight for the best food truck recipe

Josue Cervantes learned to cook from the women in his family. Her mother shared her mother’s recipes and her grandmother shared her great-grandmother’s recipes. Now Josue wants to open her own restaurant one day.

“I always told (my mom) that I wanted to bring back some hidden gems that aren’t really represented here in the United States and are commonly found in Mexico,” said 17-year-old Josue. “I want to…bring out new flavors and bring a new palette to people so they can get a taste of what Mexico is really like.

Josue honed her skills through CPS’s Career and Technical Education Program at North-Grand High School, 4338 W. Wabansia Ave. at Humboldt Park.

The technical program takes lessons from everyday classes, such as math and science, to provide training in real workplaces, such as the kitchen and hospitality fields.

“Whether they go to culinary arts school or any other stream, the skills they learn are transferable and valuable to our students,” said CPS Educational Support Specialist Sherry Franklin.

On Friday, Josue and a team of five others demonstrated some of those skills in a food truck-themed competition against three other schools.

Candace Williams, 35, a cooking teacher at Manley Career Academy High School, helps Manley students (center) Layla Sylvester, 17, and Antonio Anderson, 17, set up their ‘Burrito Baby’ stand during the Friday’s Food Truck Wars event.

Each school submitted business plans for a truck with a menu. Then they offered samples, which the students had cooked that morning at school.

Manley Career Academy’s Burrito Baby truck offered breakfast burrito bowls; The Roberto Clemente school truck, named Stuff It, offered chicken gyros. North-Grand decided to play up the nostalgia of 90s babies.

“We wanted to bring back hidden memories locked inside of us, teenagers and adults alike,” Josue said. He said the purpose was to evoke the feeling of watching cartoons on a Saturday morning. So they created The Krusty Sponge, with crab cakes inspired by SpongeBob SquarePants (a veggie burger sold in the cartoon).

This effort earned North-Grand honors for Best Food Truck Design, Colorful Burgers and Lemonade, and Best Pitch.

Burgers and fries prepared by the students of North-Grand High School.

Burgers and fries prepared by North-Grand High School students for the Chicago Public Schools “Food Truck Wars” cooking contest at Englewood Community Kitchen. The students created a food truck inspired by “The Krusty Sponge” by SpongeBob SquarePants.

But it was Vaughn Occupational’s wide range of ice creams – hand-brewed and made with herbs from their hydroponic garden – that won the top recipe.

The judges included representatives from across the culinary industry, including Hill Food Services Consulting, Aramark Food Services and Everfi, which offers a program in which students run a simulated food truck.

“One thing I was looking for was the depth of thought that drove the concept they wanted to bring to this food truck,” said Jonathan Barnes, an Everfi judge. “Food trucks are very popular, so we were looking for really innovative concepts, but also good food.”

Barnes said Vaughn’s ice cream was among the best he had ever tasted.

“You can taste the fun they had doing it and the hard work they put into finding the right balance and the right combinations,” he said.

Anthony McPhee, program director at Careers through Culinary Arts Programs, was shocked the students hand-churned the ice cream.

“It’s delicious,” he said. “It would easily be a $3 to $5 bowl. And they have their own garden – it’s a good example of farm-to-table here.

Hand-churned ice cream produced by Vaughn Occupational High School students won the best recipe in the Food Truck Wars contest.

Vaughn’s Fruitastic Herbalicious Frozen Treats ice cream, made by students from Vaughn Occupational High School, won the award for best recipe in the “Food Truck Wars” contest.

Everfi’s Anna Urban urged students to seek out more opportunities to get involved in the culinary arts. “Keep trying and keep working on it. It’s such a rewarding career field that I feel like all of these young people could do really well in.

On Friday, many students shared stories similar to Joshua’s. Gustavo Patino, 22, of Vaughn, became interested in cooking after watching his mother cook for the family. Tatianna Bowlton, 17, from Clemente, followed her grandfather into the kitchen. And Antonio Anderson, 17, who is dating Manley, said his mum used to ask for his help when he was little.

That’s why Tatianna said that there are no hard feelings towards the winners.

“We are always proud,” said Tatianna, adding that Friday was more about experience than coming away with an award.

But she and all the other students were surprised when Dr. Brian Hill, owner of Hill Food Service Consulting, said they would each get $100 to buy monogrammed chef jackets.

“I want a pink,” Tatianna said with a laugh.

Cynthia Sandoval, a student at North-Grand High School, learns that all students in the Food Truck Wars contest would receive $100 to buy their own chef's jackets.

Like other students, Cynthia Sandoval (right), who attends North-Grand High School, was surprised to learn that all students in the Food Truck Wars competition would receive $100 to buy their own chef’s jacket.