Local girl wins Michelle Obama’s cooking challenge, represents Colorado at White House

Randi Mattox

Combining her love for cooking with her fierce determination, Fort Collins 10-year-old Hannah Skalicky recently won the 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. Hannah attended the 2016 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge ceremony in Washington D.C. on July 14, where she met First Lady Michelle Obama and saw of her very own culinary creations, sweet and savory chicken and peaches, on a menu at the White House. 

Photo Courtesy: Cindy Skalicky
Hannah Skalicky’s winning dish: Sweet and savory chicken and peaches (Photo Courtesy: Cindy Skalicky)

Hannah Skalicky learned about the competition only four days before the entry deadline.

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“My aunt sent me the link for the competition,” Hannah said. “I wanted to do it, so I had to come up with an original recipe using a local ingredient. I chose Palisade peaches, and I made curry chicken with it.”

Hannah’s mom, Cindy Skalicky, said her daughter loved cooking at an early age.

“She’s a very curious child and is always observing people and activities,” Skalicky said. “I would have her stand on the chair next to the griddle and help me flip the pancakes, scramble the eggs or stir the cookie batter. She wanted to try fairly advanced techniques quite young. I was sort of surprised, but I let her do it because it was natural for her.”

Hannah said she chose to use peaches as her local ingredient because of her involvement with an annual peach festival.

“My dad’s a Rotarian, and he does the Rotary Peach Festival every year,” Hannah said. “I help with selling the peaches and flipping peach pancakes.”

And she was inspired by a friend to use curry as another main ingredient.

“I have an Indian friend who uses curry a lot because her mom is a professional Indian chef,” Hannah said. “They use a lot of curry and cumin in their dished, so I decided to use curry because it has a very unique taste.

The congratulatory email came six weeks after Hannah entered the contest. 

“She was at a vacation Bible school camp that morning,” Skalicky said. “Every day up until then, she had been asking if I had any emails yet. She went to the church that morning, and I pulled up my email and learned that she was the winner for the state.”

Hannah said she was not expecting to win, which made the good news that much better.

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“I was surprised,” Hannah said. “I was really happy and excited to go, and I was really looking forward to the trip.”

The Skalicky family took a vacation to Washington D.C. last fall, but this time the experience was a bit different. From attending a private tour at the Smithsonian Museum to touring Julia Child’s kitchen, Hannah and Cindy Skalicky said they had an unforgettable trip.

“It’s one thing to see the White House and take a tour, but it’s another thing to be an invited guest,” Skalicky said. “They pulled out all the stops for all of the kids. I know that all of the parents that came felt the same way, which was just humbled and honored to be there because of something your child did.”

As they arrived to the ceremony at the White House, Skalicky said they experienced a very generous welcome.

“They welcomed and introduced every child and parent in alphabetical order by state, just like they do to the foreign dignitaries when they come,” Skalicky said. “They had a military band playing and drinks for the kids. It was a really cool moment.”

When the Skalicky family arrived at their table, there was a surprise waiting for them at their seats.

“Hannah’s dish was on the menu,” Skalicky said. “It was one of the three main dishes that were served to everyone that was there. They picked seven dishes out of 56, and hers was one of the main meals. We didn’t know that until we got there.”

But the most exciting part of the trip came later when they got the opportunity to meet First Lady Michelle Obama.

“She had about 30 seconds with each child and parent to say congratulations and we had a chance to thank her for having us,” Skalicky said. “I told her that we were just so grateful and that this was changing lives.”

Hannah Skalicky may only be 10 years old, but she is living proof that children can accomplish amazing things. She wants to continue cooking and hopes to someday become a cooking teacher or professional chef.

Collegian Arts and Culture Editor Randi Mattox can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @randimattox.