The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

August 24, 2013

Young cook meets Obama

Oakwood's Pettit attends 'state dinner' at White House

The Commercial-News

---- — OAKWOOD — If you ask Taddy Pettit what he did during the summer, he might talk about winning a tennis championship or going to tennis camp.

And, oh yeah … he met the president of the United States.

The 11-year-old Oakwood boy is low-key about the once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

“He doesn’t fully understand how incredibly cool this is,” his father, Justin Pettit of Covington, Ind., said.

Taddy, a sixth-grader at Oakwood Grade School, was one of 54 young winners in a nationwide recipe challenge to promote healthy lunches as part of first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.

He and stepfather Ryan Rogers, a chef, came up with “Black Bean Wrap with Jicama — Grilled Corn Salsa” over the summer. His mother is Abbie Pettit of Oakwood.

One winner was chosen from each state, the District of Columbia and three territories.

Taddy and Rogers were flown to Washington, D.C., in early July for three days of red carpet treatment, including a state dinner (actually, a luncheon), photo opportunity with the first lady and a chance to chitchat with Barack Obama — who made a surprise visit to the luncheon.

The Healthy Lunchtime Challenge & Kids’ State Dinner was sponsored by Epicurious, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Let’s Move program.

The youngsters — ages 8-12 — and their guardians joined Michelle Obama for a healthy lunch, featuring a selection of the winning recipes, followed by a visit to the White House kitchen garden.

Taddy said he was seated at a table with a good view; there were speakers and a performance by singer Rachel Crow. Michelle Obama thanked the participants and said she was proud of them.

Then, without warning, the president appeared, saying that he’s usually invited to state dinners, but somehow the invitation got lost, according to a video on the Let’s Move website. He also told the children that vegetables can be good when they’re cooked properly.

Obama then went around and met all of the children. He spent a bit longer with Taddy, however, when he learned the boy was from Illinois.

“I felt more special because he actually spoke to me,” Taddy recalled. “He said, ‘Tell everyone back home, I said hi.’”

To the other children, Obama said only, “nice to meet you,” Taddy said.

Taddy said he was a “little bit nervous” to meet the president.

Michelle Obama also talked with all of the children.

At the luncheon, children were announced in the manner of state dignitaries arriving at an official state dinner, and a press line, including White House chef Sam Kass, conducted interviews and snapped photos, just like at a real state event.

During the trip to Washington, D.C., the children also visited the Smithsonian Institution, and received T-shirts with the Epicurious Healthy Junior Chef logo.

Taddy gives his stepfather credit for coming across the recipe contest in June. Rogers teaches culinary arts at Richland Community College in Decatur, and has cooked for Oprah Winfrey. They had just a couple of days to come up with the black bean wrap and to test it out.

The idea was to come up with a recipe that’s affordable, original and delicious. Entries had to represent each of the food groups, either in one dish or as parts of a lunch meal, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy foods, with fruits and veggies making up roughly half the plate or recipe.

Taddy was surprised to learn that their recipe was a winner — out of more than 1,300 entries.

“I was really excited about it,” he said.

Justin Pettit said he’s a vegetarian and all of his children started out as vegetarians.

After his national success as a chef, does Taddy want to be a professional cook someday?

His father said the boy wants to be a professional tennis player, and won a summer tournament in his age group at the Danville Tennis Club. He also attended tennis camp at the University of Illinois.

About the contest

The second Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, originated by Epicurious to promote healthy eating among America’s youth, received more than 1,300 entries featuring wholesome, tasty ingredients, including salmon, black beans and ground turkey.

The full list of winners and recipes can be found online at A free downloadable and printable e-cookbook of the winning recipes, including nutritional analyses and photos, is available at the contest site,,,, and

The contest received sophisticated recipe entries from all over the country that featured healthy ingredients like salmon, Greek yogurt, and ground turkey. Each recipe also included anecdotes explaining the importance of healthy eating.


To see Taddy Pettit's winning recipe, go to and type his name into the search box. Download the cookbook with the kids' creations at