BANGOR, Maine — When 12-year-old Sienna Mazone needed inspiration for a national youth recipe competition, she turned to the format of her favorite Food Network show, “Chopped.”
She asked her mother to prepare a basket of mystery ingredients, much like the show. Then 30-minute countdown began.
Inside the basket, she found an avocado, sweet potato, chili pepper and tortilla shells. With two minutes to spare, a recipe was born: The Mexican Haystack.
The technique proved to be a winner for Mazone, who was one of 54 children — one from each of the 50 states and four territories — who won the competition. Mazone, a home schooled Dresden resident, won the Maine award for the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, a national youth recipe competition to promote healthy lunches as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. The contest challenged kids to create a healthy, affordable, original and delicious lunch recipe following the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines, representing each of the food groups in one dish or as parts of a lunch meal.
Mazone heard about the contest from her aunt, who sent her a newspaper clipping about the challenge and asked Sienna to enter.
Mazone’s recipe, a combination of salsa, guacamole, refried beans and tortilla strips, won her a trip to Washington, D.C., where she dined with first lady Michelle Obama at the “Kids’ State Dinner” on July 18.
“I feel privileged to be a role model and to encourage other kids to be healthy. It was really exciting to be there,” Mazone said.
Mazone’s inspiration came from her love of Mexican food. She was also inspired by a trip to the Boston Museum of Science, where she learned about chef Ferran Adria. She took notice of Adria’s use of “color, texture and flavor in his dishes,” trying to do something similar in her winning entry.
As a semifinalist in the challenge last year, Mazone said this year’s victory tasted sweet.
“I was speechless,” Mazone said of finding out she won in late June. “I took the paper and put it over my face and just said ‘wow.’”
“It was the first time I saw my daughter not say a word,” said Kimberly Mazone, Sienna’s mother.
Now in its third year, the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge hosted the winners for the “Kids’ State Dinner” at the White House. Michelle Obama and Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy and Let’s Move! Executive Director Sam Kass met with the winners. President Barack Obama stopped by to say hello, as well.
The lunch included a selection of the winning recipes and a tour through the White House kitchen garden.
While in the capital, Mazone set up a meeting with Maine’s U.S. Sen. Angus King. She met with his Senior Policy Advisor Marge Kilkelly for about 30 minutes to talk about her ideas for making Maine a healthier state.
Mazone’s first idea: “No. 1: Adults, teachers and medical professionals should consider being healthy role models themselves.”
She also encouraged more funding for healthy eating programs and replacing unhealthy options in school cafeterias with healthy ones.
“Kids are never going to choose broccoli over pizza,” Mazone said.
Kimberly Mazone said her daughter cooks regularly. “Since she was big enough to stand up, she’s been in the kitchen with me,” she said.
“It has given her a lot of confidence, being in the kitchen and being connected with the land, the local gardens and CSA [we participate in]. I try to connect her as much as possible with the farming community,” Kimberly Mazone said. She added that “the health of our children should be a bipartisan issue.”
The Let’s Move! initiative was launched by the first lady to help address the problem of childhood obesity. The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge was launched by Epicurious, a food and cooking website and recipe database, and is sponsored by the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture.
The challenge received more than 1,500 entries this year from children ages 8-12 working with a parent or guardian to create their meals.
The winners for each state were chosen by a panel of judges including Sam Kass; Tanya Steel, Epicurious’ Special Projects Contributor and originator of the contest; Jackie Haven, Deputy Director of the USDA; Deborah Friendly, General Attorney Office of the General Counsel for the department of education; Chef Linton Hopkins, consulting chef for Delta Air Lines; and two Washington, D.C.,-based children who are graduates of Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters program.
Although her winning dish was savory, Sienna loves to bake sweet things, too.
“I enjoy making healthy desserts with natural sweeteners like local honey or Maine maple syrup. I love making pie and cookies,” Sienna said.
While traveling to Washington, D.C., Sienna was inspired, meeting other peers who are also cooking up healthy meals.
Although she is “asking for divine guidance to know how to make the most impact,” in what she’ll do next, she currently helps her dad teach cooking classes at The Ark, a vegan cafe in Lewiston, by aiding in meal preparation and creating posters promoting healthy living tips.
She also plans to continue eating healthy foods.
“You’re going to feel good and have energy to do necessary things that need to be done,” Mazone said.
Plus, she said, eating healthy will help her and her peers “get better grades in school.”
Mexican Haystack Recipe
Recipe by Sienna Mazone, courtesy of www.letsmove.gov
6 whole-grain tortillas
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced thin
1 red Fresno chile pepper, seeded and chopped
½ red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of one lemon or lime
1½ teaspoons salt
1 avocado, seeded and mashed
2½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 large sweet potato, peeled, baked and mashed
1 (15 ounce) can of vegetarian refried beans
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Cut the flour tortillas in strips and place them on a baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the strips are crispy and slightly brown.
To make the salsa: In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, pepper, onion, cilantro, two tablespoons of the lemon or lime juice, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
In a separate bowl, combine the remaining lemon or lime juice and the avocado along with ½ teaspoon each of cumin and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, add the remaining 2 teaspoons cumin to the mashed sweet potato. In the microwave, warm the sweet potato and the beans in two separate bowls for 1 minute.
To make the haystack: Place a few tablespoons of refried beans on the plate, then sweet potato, salsa and avocado. Place the baked tortilla strips around the haystack to use for dipping.