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Greensburg Salem senior Sabrina Staats wins 2 scholarships toward future career as chef

| Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Sabrina Staats, a Greensburg Salem senior, holds one of the cookies she and cooking partner Kiarah Nelson of Norwin High School made to win the American Academy of Culinary Arts at Pittsburgh Technical Institute competition held Dec. 14.
Sabrina Staats’ cookies are almost to pretty to be eaten.

A Greensburg Salem senior has cooked her way two scholarships in her quest to become a chef.

Sabrina Staats, 17, of Salem has won scholarships totaling $6,000 to the Pittsburgh Technical Institute during cook-offs held this month and in November by the American Academy of Culinary Arts.

“It will be very helpful,” said Staats, who studies culinary arts at the Central Westmoreland Career and Technology Center in New Stanton.

She recognized the joy of cooking when she was 4 or 5 years old and saw her mother making Thanksgiving dinner, she said. By middle school, she knew she wanted to become a chef.

“I enjoy working on something and seeing other people enjoying it,” Staats said. “You're always learning something, no matter what you're doing,” Staats said.

She took first-place honors Dec. 14 and received a partial $1,000 scholarship to the technical school for her cookies at the local academy's first Cook-off Lite competition.

She used anise-flavored dough provided by chefs Norman Hart and Amanda Flesch and baked cookies shaped like wreaths. She combined three components — gel, fondant and Italian butter cream — as the base for her cookie decorations. She then molded chocolate to create dark-chocolate teddy bears and peppermint-infused stars to top off the confection.

In an email, Hart, chef director of the technical institute's American Academy of Culinary Arts, praised Staats' work.

“Her cookie demonstrated several different techniques such as Sabrina's piping skills and her ability to temper and mold chocolate,” the chef wrote. “She also incorporated three different frostings to create a wonderful and unique flavor for her cookie wreaths.”

On Nov. 9, she and cooking partner KiarahNelson, a Norwin High School student, each earned $5,000 scholarships after they stuffed a chicken with spinach and homemade cheese, then wrapped it in bacon, gnocchi, kale chips and julienne mixed vegetables.

“Sabrina and her teammate made their own cheese and one of the best gnocchi I have had in a long time,” Hart reported.

Staats works part time at both McDonald's and the Westmoreland Country Club, where she is a prep cook, desert maker and dishwasher. She said she has learned a great deal about the culinary arts from the chefs on the staff of the country club.

“They've taken me under their wings,” Staats said.

“I see myself, probably in 10 years, as a chef,” she said. “I know it takes a lot to get there.”

Staats shows promise, especially because of her determination, according to Hart.

“Sabrina has a bright and shiny future in the food service industry,” he said. “She researches and practices very hard, which is fundamental to the development and success of great American chefs.”

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or