Shaler students cook up meals with local flavor for contest

| Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:03 p.m.

Shaler Area High School students recently made two meals without stepping foot in a supermarket in an exercise in creating green cuisine.

As part of this year's Fairchild Challenge, a yearlong environmental competition that offers monthly environmental challenges for competing high school students, Shaler Area students created a dish of pumpkin French toast with fried apples and autumn stew with homemade soft pretzels using local ingredients.

The program is coordinated locally by Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh.

“It's really cool to see what you can make from your backyard and all local ingredients,” said John Colarusso, a senior, who contributed eggs from his family's chickens and maple syrup made from trees tapped in his backyard for the breakfast meal.

“I was surprised how many things we could find around us,” Colarusso said. “It wasn't like we had to search for anything.”

The Fairchild Challenge competition tasked students to create two meals that are “low impact” or leave a small carbon footprint by using ingredients that do not need to be transported across long distances.

Students in the high school's Gifted and Talented Education, or GATE, program worked with students in the Life Skills program to prepare, cook, taste-test and score each of the meals.

“They're learning how you can cook easily, locally and inexpensively and have it be delicious,” said Christina Palladino, GATE teacher, who supervised the project. “Some had an interest in helping others, some an interest in cooking or the environment.”

Students pooled their resources to collect the ingredients from local resources. Students provided fresh eggs from pet chickens, homemade syrup, honey from a student's backyard apiary, apples from backyard trees, venison caught and butchered by Shaler Area hunters, vegetables from backyard gardens and farmers markets, and herbs from the school's herb garden.

Max Reno, a senior, even provided bread made from a yeast culture from the 1800s that still is active. Reno's brother, Derek, a Shaler Area graduate, obtained the yeast culture from Allegheny College in Meadville, and the family grows the culture and makes bread from it each week.

“Once I heard about this project … I thought it had a cool history and brought it in,” Max Reno said.

He said he has worked on low-impact and environmental projects with his brother in the past and was happy to be involved in this month's Fairchild Challenge project.

“A lot of people underestimate the availability of what you can get,” Reno said. “It's all very accessible.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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