Last November, 10 teams of two competed against each other with hopes of advancing to the third and final round of the Colavita Challenge at the Food and Finance High School in Manhattan. At stake was the grand prize of an all-expenses paid trip this summer to Italy where they will get the chance to learn traditional Italian cooking methods and explore a handful of cities throughout the country. Additionally, each winner will be given a $2,500 scholarship to aid in their upcoming college expenses.
Each team was to create a dish that featured Colavita Premium Selection Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Colavita Balsamic Vinegar and Colavita Polenta. Over the span of seven weeks, each team practiced every day under the guidance of their mentors on recipe development, preparation, testing and timing.
Tom Colicchio – Tom Colicchio is recognized as Executive Chef and owner of Crafted Hospitality, one of the best restaurant groups. Located in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the focus of this group is to make people happy and provide better food for all.
Dana Cowin – Dana Cowin is a tastemaker and innovator in media, food and style. Her work spans public speaking, podcasts, social, video, TV, magazines, books, restaurants and events. An award-winning influencer in the food world, Cowin is building brands, speaking across the country and hosting a podcast, Speaking Broadly on Heritage Radio Network and all major podcast platforms.
“We decided to take a very cultural approach to our dish. Not only did we want our dish to be a physical embodiment of the historical features of Italy, we wanted our dish to impress the judges with its simplicity. We didn’t want our dish to be something you’d find on the menu of an expensive restaurant, but something that everyone could enjoy,” the team said.
“Our take on lasagna was non-traditional in every way. From the use of Japanese eggplants to the polenta as the lasagna noodles, we’re very proud of our dish and how it turned out,” said the team.
“In our final recipe we decided to add whipped ricotta and the kumquat sauce because we felt it brightened the dish. The polenta needed the sauce to compliment it and the whipped ricotta brought out the savory side of the dish that we were aiming for,” the team said.
Judges chef Tom Colicchio and Dana Cowin tasted and rated each students’ submission on stage while their fellow classmates cheered them on.
Last year’s winning team comprised of now seniors Kayla Jenkins and Citlaly Hernandez. Both were in attendance last week and were excited to relive the experience through the eyes of a spectator this time around. When asked about the impact of their Italian excursion last year, both Kayla and Citlaly credit their trip for encouraging them to travel more and refine their culinary career focuses.
“I had the opportunity to learn about myself in Italy last year. I learned to be more open to trying new things, meeting new people and leaving my comfort zone. I aspire to be a chef and open my own restaurant, but first I want to travel as much as possible so that those experiences influence and enhance my culinary style,” said Kayla.
As for Citlaly, she is looking to express her passion for food through writing. “The trip to Italy with Colavita was truly eye opening. Not only did I learn more about myself, but it inspired me to apply to universities in Italy. My long-term career goal is to be able to travel the world and express my love for the culinary arts as a food writer,” said Citlaly.
Based on feedback from last year’s trip, this year’s winners can expect more than just great food and sightseeing, but an experience that will likely have a significant impact on their lives. We’re proud to be able to sponsor the Colavita Challenge and we’re already looking forward to meeting the students of next school year’s challenge.