Space cook off: Aspiring chefs prepare food for astronauts

A group of high school students from Phoebus High School in Hampton, Virginia are celebrating after winning NASA’s first “Cook-Off Culinary Challenge.”

Earlier this year students from across the country cooked meals for a team of astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. It’s the first time culinary students are partnering up with food scientists at NASA to learn how to cook for space.

The winning dish — “rice and beans with coconut milk” — is expected to be shipped to the International Space Station in December on Space X’s “Falcon 9” rocket. The tropically-flavored meal will be a part of what NASA astronauts’ eat miles above the earth.

“When you think of it as a science activity in support of NASA, it’s a really nicely rounded one as well - and you get something really good to eat out of it,” NASA astronaut Nicole Scott told, adding how she is impressed with all the candidates.

“I think across the board they all did really, really wonderfully. The food - every single thing that we tasted was really delicious,” said Scott.

And some of the students are now getting to live their dream.

“It’s kind of mind-blowing,” said Brittany Richards, a senior student who is a part of the winning team. Richards told she’s been cooking since the age of five and believes working with NASA is an incredible opportunity.

“It’s a great way to bring people together with all the different food combinations and flavors you can make through cooking. I just love it,” Richards said, who just received a $43,000 tuition scholarship to the International Culinary Schools at The Art Institutes, her teacher, Delrose Adkinson, told

Adkinson believes the NASA competition is also a great real-life learning experience.

“Competing at this level requires the students to get in a place of vulnerability,” Adkinson explains. “They’re opening themselves up to be judged. Their food is very personal to them, so it requires a level of humility.”

Also on the winning team are Seniors Victoria Goodwin and Raequan Ricks, Juniors Sarah Hayes and Irving Hughes and Sophomore Taylor Holden.

The culinary challenge requires students to understand the process food must go through before blasting off into outer-space.

“Our recipe has to be based around different nutritional guidelines that the NASA program gave us. Because they can only have a certain amount of calories and sodium in their food,” Richards learned.

Vickie Kloeris, NASA manager for the International Space Station food system, said there are challenges when dealing with food in zero gravity.

“We don’t have any dedicated refrigerators or freezers for food on the space station. That means all of our foods have to last for a very long time,” said Kloeris. NASA either uses a thermostabilization method — which is similar to canning food — or they freeze-dry it.

“A crew member can obtain their nutritional requirements from our food system, and they are allowed to supplement if they desire to do so. The only supplement we provide is Vitamin D because they don’t have sunlight exposure,” said Kloeris.

Knowing their culinary creation will be a part of NASA’s “food system” is humbling for members on the winning team.

“It’s pretty surreal,” said Hughes. “Knowing that I’m a high school student and I’m helping NASA for something that can go into space - not everyone can say that.”