More than 1,300 recipes in all poured in. After the batch was painstakingly trimmed to 54, Brynna, Liam and Devanshi were among a select group of 8- to 12-year-olds whose culinary concoctions earned them a three-course meal at the White House on Tuesday along with pep talks from President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama.
"It feels like I'm in a castle or something," said Devanshi, 12, of Sugar Land, Texas.
Liam, 11, of Browntown, Wis., said the experience was "awesome" and seeing the Obamas was "really cool."
The contest was sponsored by the Epicurious food website and the federal departments of Agriculture and Education. One winner was chosen from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories: Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific.
The recipes had to follow federal guidelines for healthy meals.
Michelle Obama, who is spearheading a campaign to reduce childhood obesity through diet and exercise, told the winners they overcame tough odds to land a seat at one of 12 round and rectangular tables set up in the East Room, where she and the president often hold equally elaborate dinners for foreign heads of state.
The event, now in its second year, is one of her favorites, she said.
"We've got singers and stars and world leaders, but this, probably throughout the entire White House, is one of our favorite events because we get to see how talented and creative and brilliant all of you young people can be," she said, surrounded by large arrangements of oranges, lemons, and Granny Smith apples and limes.
"And we don't just get to see it, we get to taste it," the first lady said before highlighting some of the more colorfully named winning recipes, including Confetti Peanut Ginger Party Pasta from Missouri, Pan Seared Mississippi Catfish on a Bed of River Rice and Devanshi's Slam Dunk Veggie Burger.
She also singled out a pizza with a gluten-free crust made of cauliflower, eggs, low-fat cheese and spices.
During an unannounced visit, Obama underscored his wife's message that healthy meals can be tasty and fun. The president also told the child cooks they are setting a good example for their classmates, parents and others "who sometimes may not always be eating as healthy as they're supposed to."
"We could not be prouder of you," he said.
After hearing the first lady tell the kids it was OK to eat with their fingers, Obama joked: "Michelle never said to me I can just pick up something with my fingers at a state dinner. So that's not fair."
Except for the fact that the dresses weren't floor-length, none of the boys wore tuxedos and "dinner" was served at midday, the event had all the trappings of a real state dinner.
Guests entered through the East Wing and their names and recipes were announced for the news media. Then it was off to a receiving line and photos with the first lady. The meal was a selection of winning recipes.
Tanya Steel, the Epicurious editor-in-chief who whipped up the contest and brought it to the first lady's attention three years ago, said Greek yogurt, salmon and kale were among the most popular ingredients. She said the choices show that kids' palates are more sophisticated than many people think.
Brynna, 12, of Metairie, La., said she found out about the contest from her local paper on deadline day. She scrambled to submit a recipe for Sweet and Spicy Stir Fry to which she had added pineapple and chili-garlic sauce because her mother's version was too bland.
Liam used ingredients grown on his family's farm for his Wisconsin Solar Oven-Simmered Chili, which is cooked by the heat of the sun. He said he looked at last year's recipes and didn't see any for chili.
Teen singer Rachel Crow of "X-Factor" fame provided entertainment. After the meal, the kids toured the first lady's garden on the South Lawn.
Take ABC13 with you!
Download our free apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices