10 world-class chefs competed to make great meals for $1.25—here's what the winners created

The winning recipe was a fish cutter sandwich made with white fish fillets
Winter Caplanson

You don't have to break the bank to fix up restaurant-quality food. That's what a handful of chefs demonstrated at the first annual "$1.25 Throwdown" in New London, Connecticut, earlier this month.

Hosted by Dan Giusti and Brigaid, his organization that recruits professional chefs to lead public school kitchens, the fundraising event challenged 10 world-class chefs to create the best meal they could working with the same paltry budget of $1.25-per-head and and the same nutritional standards required by public schools.

The idea was to generate awareness around what Brigaid does on a daily basis: Serve thousands of students lunches that not only meet certain budgetary and nutritional guidelines but also taste good.

Dan Giusti, former executive chef at Noma and founder of Brigaid
Winter Caplanson

Making something that the kids actually want to eat is often the hardest part, Giusti tells CNBC Make It: "We come up with a lot of recipes that meet the nutritional guidelines, they meet the cost, we feel good about them as chefs — and then you feed them to the kids and they'll despise them."

The competition was held on June 2 in a school cafeteria and was set up "just like we would do lunch, with lunch waves," says Giusti, who quit his job as executive chef at the renowned Danish restaurant Noma to launch Brigaid. There were five "lunch waves," with two chefs serving their $1.25 creations during each one.

Students helped judge the "$1.25 Throwdown"
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The lunches, which chefs cooked in batches of about 100, were judged by both students and a panel of food writers.

The winning recipe was a fish cutter sandwich served with shredded cabbage on homemade Bajan salt bread. Created by Ghetto Gastro, a culinary collective out of the Bronx, the recipe included two sides, which were also made from scratch: sofrito potato wedges and watermelon granita.

Ghetto Gastro's creation will be incorporated into Brigaid's 2018-2019 school lunch menu.

Second place went to Michelin-starred chef Jeremiah Langhorne, who made chicken carnita tacos, and third place went to Jessica Koslow, a 2018 James Beard Award nominee for best chef, who prepared a Monte Cristo sandwich.

Jessica Koslow prepared a Monte Cristo sandwich
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Other recipes included potato dumplings, a vegetable burrito and Italian fried rice.

The contest serves as a good reminder that it's possible to make tasty, healthy meals on a dime. "When you cook like this, you have to really be deliberate about everything that you do," says Giusti. "Everything you put in one of these recipes, it has to be essential. You have to get in the mode of really cooking in a way that everything you're doing has a reason behind it — and for whatever reason, when we cook, that's typically not the case. We just add things because we can. But when every penny counts, you don't just add this and add that. You add something because it's essential to the dish."

Even if you're not a renowned chef, you can replicate restaurant-quality dishes on a tight budget. Check out some of our favorite inexpensive recipes:

Don't miss: We looked at the 25 most popular cash back credit cards—here's our pick for No. 1

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The winning recipe was a fish cutter sandwich made with white fish fillets
Winter Caplanson
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