On Thursday, 56 children streamed through the East Garden Room at the White House, each arriving beside a parent to receive an official introduction usually reserved for dignitaries and foreign heads of state.
The First Lady welcomed these young chefs from across the country to the White House for the fifth annual “Kids’ State Dinner.” Each attendee earned a spot at the event by submitting a healthy and inventive culinary creation.
“You guys blew us away with your creativity and your skills in the kitchen,” Mrs. Obama said in remarks during the event, “You all are now part of a proud Kids’ State Dinner tradition. You are part of a network of extraordinary young people who are leading a movement for healthy eating all across the country.”
The winners each submitted a recipe to the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge competition, a part of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative. After receiving over 1,200 applications, White House chefs prepared each recipe for a panel of judges that included “Let’s Move!” staffers and previous winners of the challenge.
They narrowed it down to just one representative from each state, territory, and the District of Columbia.
The participants, ranging from ages eight to twelve, submitted a diverse set of recipes, from stuffed squash and veggie tacos to tropical pizza and shrimp and grits.
For Elena Sotobashi, the winner from Washington, D.C., inspiration came from her family.
“My grandfather’s side of the family is Japanese,” she said. “And the entire family really likes sushi.”
Elena’s submission was “D.I.Y. Sushi,” a recipe that calls for each diner to mix and match ingredients to make customized rolls. It’s a meal that the family enjoys frequently, so when they learned about the competition, Elena knew she wanted to enter–even before she was old enough.
“Well, just the idea of going to the White House for lunch was really exciting to me,” she said, “but I couldn’t enter last year so I had to wait until this year.”
The dish requires creativity but isn’t hard to make. Elena explained that the rice and seaweed take about thirty minutes, and preparing vegetables and other fillings “doesn’t really take long at all.”
The key is finding just the right combination. Her favorite is a classic: crabmeat, avocado, and cucumber.
The Kids’ State Dinner gave all the Healthy Lunchtime winners a chance to show off their culinary skills and see the inside of the White House. Before the event, Elena said she was not only excited to meet the First Lady, but also to connect with her fellow young chefs.
“I think it would be cool to make friends and if they are, like, in California, we could write letters,” she said.
For Elena and her family, the trip to the president’s home has special significance. “In ’08, I brought Elena door to door with me to campaign for Obama,” Mary Ishibashi, Elena’s mother, said.
“Now, eight years later, she’s bringing me to the White House!”