FRENCHTOWN – A Frenchtown youngster’s tofu stir-fry earned her a trip to the nation’s capital and lunch with the first lady.

Chloe Long, 10, is one of 54 winners of this year’s Healthy Lunchtime Challenge, in which more than 1,500 kids between the ages of 8 and 12 competed for a chance to have their recipe published and feted at the Kids’ State Dinner at the White House.

Long has competed in cooking competitions through 4-H for years, but said she wasn’t expecting to go so far in the national competition.

“My dad and I like to cook a lot, so that’s what inspires me,” she said.

In fact, the name for her original “What you don’t like tofu?” stir-fry comes from her dad’s dislike of tofu, she said.

Originally, Long wanted to use elk meat in the recipe, but the contest guidelines called for easy-to-obtain, inexpensive ingredients, so she switched to tofu.

The recipe has been taste-tested several times by the family, and includes broccoli, mushrooms, onions and peppers, she said.

Long typed the recipe and submitted it for consideration, then learned in April that she was a finalist. In June, she got word that her recipe had been chosen for Montana and that the recognition came with a trip to D.C. and lunch with first lady Michelle Obama.

“I was anxious for it to happen,” Long said.

Earlier this month, Long, her mom and dad flew to D.C., where they took a few extra days to enjoy the sights and meet Montana Sen. Jon Tester.

And, of course, they ate lunch with the other state winners and Obama.

“It was really fun,” Long said, adding the atmosphere during the White House event was comfortable.

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“She hugged us,” Long said. “She treated us like we were her best friends.”

Lunch consisted of eight recipes drawn from this year’s contest winners, a tour of the White House vegetable gardens and a surprise appearance by the president, who shared the importance of eating healthy and confided that even the first family has food weaknesses.

For Michelle Obama, it’s french fries. For Barack Obama, it’s chips and guacamole, Long said.

The experience was “almost unreal,” Long said.

“I thought I was dreaming,” she said of the moment the president walked in.

Her trip has inspired her to eat healthier herself, and meals she helps prepare at home incorporate nutritional guidelines, Long said, with her mom, Kathy Long, agreeing.

“I do believe after she came back, she’s really held it up,” Kathy Long said.

“It seems like once you’ve done this, you can’t go back,” she said. Chloe’s motivation is contagious for the rest of the family as well.

The young chef said she plans to continue cooking regularly and try some of the recipes from other state winners.

One day she would like to open her own cafc, she said.

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Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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