Rising Scholars’ NASA HUNCH Culinary Team Earns Chance to Compete at National Level

A team of Rising Scholars from the Kent State University Columbiana County campuses earned a spot in the finals of the NASA HUNCH culinary competition at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The scholars will compete with teams from around the country on April 17 to determine if their culinary creation will be a future meal selection for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

The Rising Scholars team making its oral presentation before the judges and fielding questions.

The students qualified for the trip to Texas following a preliminary competition in February, at which they presented their seafood rice dish to a panel of judges following months of research and testing. 

The winning team members who participated in the preliminary competition include Jose Garcia III and Miles Reynolds of East Liverpool High School; Lamar Salter of Salem Junior/Senior High School; Vixx Mohrbacher of Crestview High School; and Karrin Diegdio of United Local Schools. 

The High Schools United with NASA to Create Hardware (HUNCH) program was launched by NASA in 2003 with three schools. Today, hundreds of high schools across the country are involved with its project-based learning programs through which students learn skills and find career opportunities. The Culinary Arts Challenge is one of several categories.

“The culinary arts program teaches students how the body processes food in space and how this impacts the nutritional requirements for astronauts,” explained Jessica Paull, Ph.D., Rising Scholars coordinator. “Students had to create a recipe that fulfills the nutritional requirements while maintaining its flavor. Preparing food to eat in space is not easy.”

Jose Garcia preparing part of the entrée to be judged.

Each year, NASA provides a new theme for its culinary challenge and this year it required students to create a savory breakfast item that includes a vegetable. 

The first phase of the program was learning about food processing/food science and how the body’s response to microgravity affects the astronauts’ nutritional needs in space. Students had to research and learn about different methods of processing food for microgravity; how the entrée would be reconstituted for eating in space; and the physiological changes that cause astronauts to need additional fiber, low sodium, certain calories and flavorful foods. 

NASA reported that 33 different schools across the country created entrees that were judged locally by food industry personnel and community members. After those preliminary competitions, eight teams with the highest scores are invited to the Johnson Space Center for a final competition judged by NASA’s food lab personnel, industry professionals, astronauts and the International Space Station program office. The winning entrée will be processed by the Johnson Space Center lab and sent up to the station for astronauts to enjoy.

Paull noted that the Rising Scholars involved with this project were excited from the beginning and worked well as a team. “They approached this challenge with enthusiasm and were committed to succeeding,” she said. “I am so proud of the amount of research and work they put into this. I didn’t get to see the actual scores or comments from the judging, but it was obvious that the judges were impressed by the dish and the presentation. Our students had answers to every question asked. They were prepared and confident.”

Other team members who participated with the project include Nathan McMichael and Victoria Jackson of Leetonia High School; Addysin Andrenok and Vaida Jo Willis of Southern Local; and Sylas Johnson of Salem Junior/Senior High School.

Serving on the judges panel for the Columbiana County Rising Scholars’ presentation

Serving on the judges panel for the Columbiana County Rising Scholars’ presentation were Sebastian Chomczyk of Sabi’s Restaurant; Josh and Alyvia Congelio of Lariccia’s Italian Marketplace and Food Trailer; Eric and Valerie Cross from the Garwood Grill; Rachael Blasiman, Ph.D., of Kent State; Sheri Kuzmiak from the Kent State Bistro; Erica Raymond of Raymond’s Ice Cream Parlor; Maegan Richards of Kent State University; and Diane McElwain, Ph.D., from NASA HUNCH.

Rising Scholar mentors who worked with the culinary competition team include Joy Carpenter, Elizabeth Mostella, Grace Huddlestun, Olivia Rice and Blaine McCurdy.


Cutline A: Headed to Houston are (front, from left) Joy Carpenter, mentor; Lamar Salter; Diane McElwain of NASA HUNCH; Miles Reynolds; Jessica Paull, Rising Scholars coordinator; and (back, from left) Grace Huddlestun, mentor; Jose Garcia III; Karrin Diegdio; Vixx Mohrbacher; and Elizabeth Mostella, mentor.

Cutline B: The team making its oral presentation before the judges and fielding questions.

Cutline C: Jose Garcia preparing part of the entrée to be judged.

Cutline D: The panel of judges.

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POSTED: Wednesday, March 13, 2024 02:35 PM
Updated: Tuesday, April 9, 2024 04:54 PM