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Madeleine Steppel Finds Recipe for Success

Reston resident dines with president and first lady.

Madeleine Steppel, 9, meets White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass Monday, Aug. 20, after winning an online competition.

Madeleine Steppel, 9, meets White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass Monday, Aug. 20, after winning an online competition. Photo Contributed

— One night a few weeks ago, while she was at Camp Louise in Maryland, Madeleine Steppel, 9, of Reston headed to the administration building to wait for a call. Once she got to the building, known around camp as "the White House," the call came in: she had won a trip to the real White House for lunch with first lady Michelle Obama.

Steppel was one of 54 winners in the epicurious.com Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, which earned her a trip to the Kids’ State Dinner Monday, Aug. 20. Her recipe was for fish chowder and fruity salad.

"The president made a surprise visit, and it was amazing to see them both together. I got to shake hands with him and get a picture with Mrs. Obama," she said. "She’s really tall. We got to see her inauguration gown, which was very tall, and she was even taller in heels. I had to look way up."

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Madeleine Steppel, 9, and her mother Debra in front of the White House. Madeleine won a healthy lunchtime contest online, and dined with the president and first lady Monday, Aug. 20.

Steppel’s trip included a stay in Georgetown for the night, as well as a tour of the White House and attendance at the luncheon.

"[This contest] has inspired kids across this country to learn about healthy eating and to get in the kitchen [to] start cooking," said Michelle Obama during her address. "You are going to inspire some students to get into the kitchen. This is exactly the kind of leadership we need to give our kids the healthy future they deserve."

JUST AFTER SCHOOL let out for the summer, Madeleine’s mother, Debra Steppel, was looking for a gazpacho recipe for the family to make for her husband on Father’s Day, when she came across the contest website.

"I saw the sidebar about the challenge, read the rules and realized Madeleine met the criteria, so I approached her," Debra Steppel said.

Madeleine said she stressed about putting the recipe together. At home her nickname is "soup girl," so she thought she would like to do something with soup, and in the end decided to treat it like her favorite television show, "Chopped."

"In the show they have to put together a bunch of different ingredients together, and that’s what I had to do with all the food groups," she said. "The contest was going to have winners from all 50 states, so I got the idea for a Virginia recipe, and that’s when I looked in the ‘Celebrate Virginia’ cookbook and found Sen. Mark Warner’s (D) recipe for creamless asparagus soup."

Madeleine read that Virginia’s state beverage is milk, which made her think of a chowder, to which she added white, boneless fish, peas and carrots. She chose salad because she wanted to add more fruits.

The meal is gluten-free, nut-free, kosher and halal. It contains parts of each food group: salad greens, carrots, peas and potatoes for vegetables, cherry tomatoes, strawberries, dried cranberries and orange juice for fruits, protein from the fish, dairy from the milk and grains from the whole grain bread served with the soup.

In order to keep the chowder healthy, Madeleine Steppel had to steer clear of heavy cream, opting instead to make a roux, which is melted fat, such as butter, mixed with flour to serve as a thickening agent.

"It was a big hit, her brother asked for thirds," Debra Steppel said.

After receiving the good news at Camp Louise, Madeleine helped make her recipe for the entire camp. While Madeleine’s recipe calls for it to make four to six servings, it had to be adapted for 600 to feed all the campers at Camp Louise.

"People kept coming up to me and saying how good it was, which was a really good feeling," she said. "It felt good because I didn’t know a lot of them, but the meal was good enough that they had to say something."

DURING HER TRIP to the White House, Madeleine Steppel got to examine the White House Garden, meet White House Assistant Chef Sam Kass and examine the garden’s fig tree, which held a special interest since the Steppels have one on their back deck.