GRCC students among finalists in competition to send a meal to space station

A team of Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) culinary students is one small step closer to the giant leap of preparing a meal for astronauts aboard the International Space Station.

Students with the Secchia Institute of Culinary Education made the cut in the NASA HUNCH competition and will be among 10 teams from across the nation heading to the Johnson Space Center in Houston on April 20 for a final cookoff.

The winner gets to prepare a meal to be blasted into space and sent to the orbiting station for astronauts conducting research.

The Secchia Institute is partnering with the Ottawa Area Intermediate School District’s Careerline Tech Center, with students Katie Bird and Devon Vanderwall preparing a recipe of Austrian-style steak soup.

Team worked incredibly hard

The 2022–23 GRCC Raiders Fuel culinary team is coached by Werner Absenger, Secchia Institute’s program director, and chef Jennifer Struik, an instructor in the program.

“I’m thrilled to be representing team GRCC in Houston this year,” Struik says. “Katie and Devon worked incredibly hard to earn this top-10 spot. I’m very proud of their commitment to the project over these past seven months.”

The team has been working since early September, using nutritional guidelines from NASA and a research project looking at how foods affect astronauts in low gravity.

The team competed in a preliminary round last month at the Grand Rapids Public Museum, preparing servings for about 20 judges as well as museum guests.

Building confidence

Bird said she was “vibrating with excitement” when she learned the team was advancing. The team's success also helps her build confidence in being able to reach her career goal of being a personal chef.

“Now I know I can work under high-pressure conditions with precision,” she says.
It is the fourth year GRCC culinary students and faculty are competing in the NASA HUNCH competition. The 2019–20 team also made it to the finals, finishing second in the competition.

Finalists have not yet been selected for a second phase of the competition, in which students are creating edible food packaging. Mechanical design students Abby Tichelaar and Cole Herring are devising edible cargo boxes in an interdisciplinary project with the goal of eliminating waste on space missions, where space on aircraft is at a premium.

Tichelaar and Herring attend Launch U, a partnership between GRCC and the Kent Intermediate School District. They are working on an edible cargo transfer box that will hold nutrition bars and, at the end of its life cycle, upcycled into an edible solution, such as gummy bears; recycled; or downcycled into plastic components.

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Read more articles by Shandra Martinez.