WATERVILLE — Noah Koch — whose last name means cook in German — has loved cooking for most of his nine years.
Now, that love has paid off. The Waterville boy’s winning recipe in a national nutritious food contest has won him a trip to the White House to meet first lady Michelle Obama.
“I’ve always wanted to go to the White House, and my mom told me about this contest where the grand prize is you get to meet first lady Obama at the White House,” Koch said over the phone while he and his family were visiting his grandparents in Virginia this week.
Koch’s dish, Vegan Powerhouse Pesto Pasta, was chosen from 1,300 entries by a panel of judges, including Sam Kass, executive director of Let’s Move! and the White House’s senior policy adviser on nutrition, as well as representatives from the U.S. education and agriculture departments.
Koch is among 54 children representing each state and territory of the U.S. to get what he calls a “great honor.”
In a press release issued last week, Michelle Obama said, “Our Kids’ State Dinner is one of my favorite events of the year, and the kid chefs who come from around the country never cease to impress and inspire me with their creativity and ingenuity.
“I’m counting down the days until the winners join me at the White House to celebrate these healthy and delicious meals that kids everywhere will love.”
Let’s Move! was launched by Obama as a way to battle childhood obesity by providing health information, educating people to eat healthier foods and promoting physical activity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. In 2010, more than one-third of children and adolescents in the U.S. were overweight or obese.
Tonya Steele, editor in chief for Epicurious.com, who helped set up the contest for the second consecutive year, said that recipes from each state were chosen based on their ability to meet USDA’s MyPlate recommendations, originality and affordability. A small group of recipes from each state and territory were selected as finalists to be cooked and taste-tested. Overall, 108 dishes were cooked.
Koch’s pesto pasta was “extremely good, it tasted very fresh,” Steele said during a phone interview Monday. “Pesto can be so fattening, but this one was a lighter version. It had a very sprightly taste.”
Koch’s dish was inspired by his love for pesto and desire to improve its nutritious qualities. Pesto is typically heavy in cheese and oil, making it high in fat. The basil-based sauce also includes garlic and toasted pine nuts.
“I never really liked red sauce, but I always liked pesto,” Koch said. “What I really wanted it to be was a superfood, so I took out some of the oil and added some tomatoes, white beans, spinach and avocado.”
According to Koch’s mother, Hilary, 39, the family is careful about what they eat because of medical conditions and food allergies that require attention.
The Kochs have been trying to eat gluten-free and vegan. Gluten is a protein complex found in wheat, rye and barley, so gluten-free diets don’t include those grains. A vegan diet doesn’t include anything produced by an animal.
“For us, eating healthy has always been so important. We’re eating gluten-free and we’re trying to eat vegan,” Hilary said. “But it’s hard to come up with food for kids that tastes good and is vegan and gluten free. Any other child wants to eat foods like his friends eat.”
Koch said he’s OK with eating vegan, but he loves cheese, especially brie.
His winning recipe calls for two avocados, lemon juice, spinach, basil, walnuts — instead of the typical pine nuts — white beans, garlic and just a quarter-cup of olive oil. Some recipes call for up to three cups of oil.
It’s served over a bed of gluten-free pasta and topped with cherry tomatoes and white beans.
To conform to the MyPlate standards, a red, white and blue side fruit salad with skinless apples, strawberries and blueberries is included. A cup of soy milk is served with the meal.
“My dad eats it before a big race,” Koch said. “He ate it before the Boston Marathon this year.”
His father, Arne Koch, 41, a German and Russian professor at Colby College, finished the marathon and was safely outside Boston when the bombs went off April 15.
Although Arne won’t be accompanying Noah and Hilary to the White House, he was a vital component to the winning entry.
“Dad was the taste tester,” Koch said.
“We tried a few variations on friends,” Hilary wrote in an email. “But the winning recipe was only tried by us and was only submitted after Noah gave the thumbs up.”
Koch and his mother will arrive in Washington, D.C., on July 8 and explore some of the sights, including the Smithonsian’s Julia Child Kitchen exhibit. The popular TV chef and author died in 2004.
The next day, the group of winners will tour the White House gardens before having a state dinner at the White House with Michelle Obama.
Jesse Scardina — 861-9239