CONCORD -- Pleasant Hill Mayor John Hanecak and chef Lesley Stiles are the winners of Contra Costa County's fourth annual Mayors' Healthy Cook-off.
Student and adult scoring was close, but Pleasant Hill nudged out Antioch Mayor Jim Davis and Chef Jonathan Hork of Lone Tree Golf & Event Center by a bite for the prize. Pleasant Hill will hold the trophy and maintain bragging rights until next year when it hosts the competition.
"We got to go with Pleasant Hill," said head judge Alison Negrin as the group of judges huddled over the scoring sheets. "It's the highest."
The Pleasant Hill team cooked up a winning combination of red bell peppers stuffed with quinoa, garden vegetables and ground turkey with fresh salsa and chimi churri garnish.
Stiles of Lesley Stiles Foods attributes the win to her familiarity with school food guidelines and introducing fresh salad bars to schools throughout Pleasant Hill beginning nearly seven years ago by using produce picked from College Park High School's own garden.
Competing recipes complying with the guidelines will be made available to schools for use in their meal planning.
"As a chef I look for presentation first because people always eat with their eyes first," said judge Bravo Bistro Chef Habib El Jacifi. "Then taste, especially with kids, you want something appealing, not scary; something they are willing to try."
Walnut Creek Mayor Bob Simmons and chef Damain De La Rosa
It was like a big party at the Todos Santos Plaza event in Concord as mayors, chefs and sous chefs from the Mt. Diablo High School culinary academy, Serendipity, joined the regular Thursday evening Music & Market.
The culinary groups chopped, sliced, grilled and tasted their dishes, hoping for a win.
As the event title indicates, the Mayors' Healthy Cook-off invites cities to come together to educate the community on better eating habits. This year, 11 mayors from the county's 19 cities participated, putting their culinary skills to an additional and unique test -- their food had to meet the new federal school nutrition guidelines and stand up to students' tastes.
"If you're going to involve the community," said student judge Stephanie Martinez, 15, of Ygnacio Valley High School, "you must involve students. They are part of the community too."
Holding clipboards, Stephanie and other student judges walked from booth to booth watching the various preparation of food. "I'm eager to taste everything," she said. "I've seen a lot of innovative ways to present food."
Along with facing student judges, chefs were given a grab bag of freshly picked ingredients from Mt. Diablo High School's newly agriculture certified garden, supplemented with some farmers market produce.
They also were given the federal guidelines and told to cook.
"Kids going back to school are going to see some changes," said Anna Fisher, director of Food and Nutrition Services at Mt. Diablo Unified School District.
The new federal rules must be in place by Oct. 1 to continue receiving government funding. Changes include reclassification of grains and starches, division of food groups such as separating fruits and vegetables, and insisting a child receives a serving of each.
Portion control and calorie count is also part of the new guidelines. The standard lunch calories for children in grades K—5 are now 483, and for grades 6—12, it is 614. Protein cannot exceed two ounces. The purpose of the rules is to create consistency throughout the country and combat the national crisis of child obesity.
In Contra Costa County, child obesity is 33.9 percent, according to a 2010 UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the California Center for Public Health Advocacy study by city of overweight and obesity among children in the state.
It is as high as 52.4 percent in San Pablo to as low as 16.5 percent in Danville.
Pleasant Hill, winner of the 2012 Mayors' Healthy Cook-off, comes in with a score of 32.1 percent, with Concord at 41 percent, Martinez at 33 percent, Walnut Creek at 21 percent, Lafayette at 17.8 percent, and Antioch, the runner-up to the Mayors' cook-off, came in with 42.3 percent.
Education for healthier diets is something that must be done at home as well as in the schools, said Fisher.
Cindy Gershen, founder of Wellness City Challenge and owner of Sunrise Bistro in Walnut Creek, said eating healthier is also a responsibility of restaurants and that is why they are included in the challenge.
Participating mayors and schools say they want every city participating, and invite those unable to attend this year to come next year to show off their culinary skills.