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With 'Life is Sweet,' Pittsburgh chefs prepare meals, with a side of friendship

| Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
E Banks Photography
Andrew Schnepp of Pine Richland High School and chef Charles Smith participated in last year's Best Buddies 'Life is Sweet' event.
E Banks Photography
Teresa Plunkett participated as one of the Best Buddies at Duquesne University last year.

Domenic Branduzzi, owner and chef of Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville, has a new best buddy who loves to cook and loves Branduzzi's company.

Branduzzi, 30, is one of six Pittsburgh-area chefs participating in the Best Buddies Pennsylvania's annual event, the “Life Is Sweet” Chef's Showcase, which pairs chefs with young adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. The chef prepares food for the event, held April 25 Downtown, and the buddy helps the chef serve the food to the guests. Guests can watch the buddy-chef pair prepare the food plates.

This week, Branduzzi met with his buddy, Michael Supowitz, ahead of time so they could get comfortable with each other.

“I'm really excited to do the event with him,” Branduzzi says. He will be cooking bite-size appetizers, including a roasted eggplant-based hors d'oeuvre, and a polenta square with a mushroom sauce, for the event. “I think he's really excited as well.

Through the “Buddy Chef” program, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities can experience social inclusion, do something they enjoy, and build a relationship with someone who doesn't have a disability, officials say. This fits with the overall mission of Best Buddies Pennsylvania, says Dorian Smith, the state director of the group that supports about 1,500 Pittsburgh-area young adults, and middle- and high-school students.

The chef lineup includes Kevin Sousa of Salt of the Earth, Meghann Walsh of Cioppino, Andrew Hebson of Nola on the Square, Kate Romane of E2 and Nick Mineo of Sausalido.

This year is the second for the “Life Is Sweet” event, inspired by a similar program that Best Buddies did in Virginia and Arizona. Smith, who splits his time between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, says the response here last year was very positive, and the event is a main fundraiser for Best Buddies.

“It's just something that we think is probably one of the most unique fundraisers that we could do,” Smith says.

“Our mission is we want (buddies) to be ... included with everything, and we want them to have friends,” he says.

“Buddy Chef” Andrew Schnepp, a Pine-Richland High School student, says that the program is “a cause that helps you make friends and feel included, and people should really help us.”

Branduzzi calls “Buddy Chef” a great program.

“I think it's something that for adults like Michael — it's kind of good to connect them with someone they have similar interests with or can relate to,” he says.

Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at kgormly@tribweb.com or 412-320-7824.

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