Cooking competition shows with celebrity chefs and judges have become must-watch TV in Bangladesh. During May’s National Nutrition Week, 20 university students from Dhaka put on their chef’s aprons to compete in a televised challenge called Nutri-Champs. In consideration of Ramadan, the show will air on local station RTV later this summer.

Ten teams, each made up of two students, took to their cooking stations to see who could stand the heat. Their challenge? To create several dishes using four required ingredients — sunflower oil, mung bean, zinc rice, and fish — revealed in an Iron Chef-inspired mystery box, plus other spices and ingredients from a shared pantry.

The show, hosted by Ayman Sadiq (right), internet entrepreneur and creator of 10 Minute School, included nutrition segments and a panel of three nutritionists, who judged each dish based on its nutrition content, taste, and presentation.

Nutri-Champs aims to empower youth in the kitchen and stress the importance of a safe, nutritious diet. A unique partnering of five USAID programs in Bangladesh made the reality show reality. The Feed the Future Bangladesh Rice and Diversified Crops (RDC) Activity, implemented by ACDI/VOCA, came up with the idea to increase awareness and uptake of the nutrient-rich commodities it supports. RDC then teamed up with Johns Hopkins University’s UJJIBAN social behavior change program and other Feed the Future programs, including Abt Associates’ Bangladesh Nutrition Activity, World Fish’s Bangladesh Aquaculture and Nutrition Activity, and ACDI/VOCA’s Feed the Future Livestock for Improved Nutrition Project.

“Unlike expensive foreign ingredients, the easily available local food items are loaded with nutrients. Through this competition, we would like to make the younger generation aware of what kind of nutritious food they ought to eat.” ─ Nahid Osman, celebrity chef

Competition Also Promotes Gender Balance

While women often make the decisions of which groceries to buy to feed their families, men often go to the market. To represent gender diversity, the student teams included a mix of men and women working side-by-side. The show also featured female celebrity chef Nahid Osman.

Dhaka Food Delivery Service Supports Competition

The online grocery provider Chaldal, which is quickly becoming the Amazon Fresh of Dhaka, provided the food, refrigerators, and other cooking equipment and supplies. Chaldal is cornering the market for online food delivery in Dhaka, one of the world’s most densely populated and congested cities. Chaldal delivers roughly four metric tons of rice per day on bicycle — the equivalent of nearly 800 deliveries. Its popular mobile app and website offer recipes and promoted items, which soon will include healthy foods from the competition, such as zinc rice and mung bean. Zinc rice helps prevents stunting among children and supports the immune system, while mung bean is a good source of folate and other vitamins and minerals.

Nutri-Champs not only entertains foodies and Chopped enthusiasts, it also supports USAID’s mission to improve food security and nutrition in Bangladesh. Chaldal’s promotion of healthier food items has the potential to drive demand in Dhaka and influence pricing, resulting in higher production of these crops among farmers in the south and better nutrition and livelihoods in the Feed the Future zone. In this way, Nutri-Champs is driving nutritional awareness, while the private sector is leading the way toward major market shifts.

Nutri-Champs Inspires Street Vendors Before Hitting the Road for More Competitions

During the filming of Nutri-Champs, local street vendors outside the studio sold sprouted mung bean with spices, introducing a new snack to the urban population. With thousands of street vendors in the city, this snack could create a popular market for mung bean and security for farmers, who need assurance that they can sell their crop before they invest in it.

Nutri-Champs will soon hit the road, holding competitions in Jessore, Barishal, Chittagong, and Sylhet. A final, televised showdown will take place this November in Dhaka, where first- and second-place teams from each regional event will vie for glory.

Already, initial buzz has resulted in increased sales of zinc rice. Once the show airs nationwide later this summer and Chaldal promotions begin, the sale of these nutrient-rich crops will likely rise, just as the student chefs will rise to the culinary challenge.