Yesterday, at the Hyatt at the Bellevue in Philadelphia, chefs Jose Garces and Marc Vetri entertained a ballroom filled with health leaders from around the country with a demonstration of their craft in a celebrity chef cook-off for the national conference Healthy Futures: A Recipe for Childhood Wellness, focusing on childhood wellness and obesity prevention . The event was hosted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the Independence Blue Cross Foundation which, among other interventions, brings nutritional lunches and education to schools in southeastern Pennsylvania.
Launched in August 2013, Healthy Futures is a three-year, innovative, school-based approach that invests more than $3 million a year in helping children “Eat Right, Get Fit, and Stay Well.” The program currently operates in 25 schools in the region. The program’s partners include organizations that are dedicated to educating children the inspire them to eat healthier by showing them how and where food is grown.
One partner is chef Marc Vetri, founder of the Vetri Foundation for Children’s Eatiquette program. Instead of children lining up for lunch in the cafeteria, they experience a communal environment where they can gather around round tables and pass plates of delicious, healthy food made from fresh ingredients. “We are at 10 different schools now, and I would like to be a part of the whole Philadelphia school district,” says Vetri. Another partner is the Garces Foundation, which brings students to chef Jose Garces’ 40-acre Luna Farm in Bucks County to experience first-hand how eating fresh foods can improve their health.
As the chefs took center stage, guests eagerly waited for the renowned local chefs to begin their demonstration, and they snapped pictures of the judges panel: five fifth-grade student students from the region’s Healthy Futures schools. As the cook-off began with oil sizzling in pans and the clinking of cutlery, the chefs shared with the audience how they cook at home for their children. “I pack my children’s lunches every day,” said Garces. If only we all had an Iron Chef as a father, we would be some pretty happy and healthy human beings.
Chef Vetri’s tilapia tacos were completed quickly, and chef Garces’ grilled chicken quesadillas followed shortly after. The panel was served the tacos first, which received glowing reviews. One girl paused, chewing slowly to savor every bite, and declared, “It’s fantastic.” Then chef Garces substituted his plate for Vetri’s and received the honest comment, “I like the taste of creativity.”
In the final moments, chef Vetri won by one extra raised hand and was presented with a gold medal, and the chant, “eat right, get fit, stay well,” echoed throughout the room.