Once again I am blown away by both a Cranford student and her one-in-a-million teacher! America’s next top chef may well be Gianna Malecki, a talented 8-year-old student in Lori Talbot’s third grade class at Hillside Avenue School. Gianna just WON Michelle Obama’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge for the state of NJ (for her “Salmon Paradise” recipe), and she will be flown to Washington, D.C. next month for a special Kids’ State Dinner!!
More than 1,200 students around the country and in U.S. territories entered the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, but only one from each state and territory was selected, based on their original recipe creations. I spoke with Lori Talbot about how Gianna was inspired to enter the contest, and the story gave me the feelies BIG TIME!
Lori has been teaching at Hillside for 28 years, and in fact she taught my son Jake in kindergarten! She is well known for being a highly dedicated teacher who is full of enthusiasm and who goes the extra mile for each and every student. That is more than evident in her relationship with Gianna, whom Lori describes as “the coolest kid!”
But how did the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge work its way into Lori’s class? It all started with Lori’s curriculum. According to Lori: “Part of our curriculum in science is nutrition, and it’s also a passion of mine. We have a working garden at school–and every year we team up with A Toute Heure, walk to their garden for a tour, and we also harvest their mint and basil and then make recipes using those herbs.”
Lori went on: “I had known about the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, and part of the contest this year was to include food that is grown in your home state. I invited Justine Gray from Dreyer Farms to teach the kids what is grown here; she did an amazing presentation and got the kids really fired up, Gianna especially! I encouraged the students to create recipes and enter the Challenge. Gianna was so motivated, she immediately started testing recipes with her mom, Lisa. She found that her original idea for sushi didn’t quite work, so she decided to make something similar to a dish that her mom had once made, and based on what Gianna learned from me and Justine, she made the recipe much more healthful and full of Garden State vegetables.”
Take a look at the photo of the beautiful dish that Gianna made–besides submitting the original recipe to the Challenge, she had to photograph it in order to enter the contest. I would never know the difference between that dish made by an 8-year-old and a meal plated at a top-rated restaurant!
In April Lisa was notified that her daughter Gianna was finalist in the contest, but instead of simply telling Gianna the news outright, Lisa contacted Lori to suggest they tell her together after school. Lori said, “Gianna’s reaction was a bit delayed, then she REALLY got it!” The fact that a parent would want to share such thrilling news in the presence of her daughter’s teacher just shows what an impact Lori makes on her students and their families!
Lori did not stop there with her support of Gianna. She reached out to Dreyer Farms again, suggesting that they feature Gianna’s recipe in a CSA box. Dreyer Farms went one step further and asked Gianna to come up with another recipe using veggies from the current CSA box. Lori said, “Within 24 hours Gianna came up with a recipe for zucchini cakes, and they were so delicious. She did a tasting at the farm this week, and everyone was raving about them!”
Lori treated Gianna to a special gift for all her hard work: a monogrammed apron from Williams Sonoma, along with a copy of Michelle Obama’s cookbook American Grown.
Yesterday, Lisa came to pick up Gianna from school and pretended that she just wanted a photo of Lori and Gianna together. This time, BOTH Lori and Gianna’s jaws dropped in surprise as Lisa shared the good news with them: Gianna is the New Jersey winner of the Challenge!
Lori said, “Gianna burst into happy tears. And Gianna said, ‘Yesterday I was famous, and today I’m even more famous!'” How adorable is that?!!
Gianna and her mom will be flown to D.C. on July 13th for an overnight trip where the winners get treated like royalty, with tours of the Smithsonian, gifts, and a fancy Kids’ State Dinner featuring the winning kids’ recipes. Here’s hoping Gianna’s Salmon Paradise makes it to the table!
It’s clear that Gianna Malecki is going places. But it’s also clear that having an amazing teacher like Lori Talbot helps children to soar to great heights!! Congratulations, Gianna!