A.W. Beattie culinary program serves up Lenten specialties

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

This Lenten season, the A.W. Beattie Career Center's Culinary Arts Program is more like a school of fish.

Students have pooled their talents to offer a fish fry from 4 to 7 p.m. every Friday through April 11 at the career center in McCandless.

Each dinner includes an 8-ounce battered and deep-fried pollock on a freshly baked sandwich bun with cocktail or tartar sauce; a side of coleslaw; and a choice of fresh-cut fries, homemade potato chips or macaroni and cheese for $6.99.

Miriam Groom, 18, a senior at North Allegheny Senior High School and third-year culinary-arts student at Beattie, said the activity will raise money for students going to the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America competition in Lancaster. FCCLA is a national organization for students in family and consumer sciences classes.

Eleven Beattie students were scheduled to compete at the FCCLA's annual State Leadership Conference from March 19 to 21 at the Lancaster Host Resort and Conference Center.

For the past two years, Groom has brought home the silver, or second-place, award in cake decorating. This year, she was to compete in commercial baking. The deadline for this edition was before the competition.

“We were given a list of 12 items that we may have to make — such as chocolate chip cookies, strawberry shortcake or muffins. When we get there, the judges will pick three or four of those items, and we'll have two and a half hours to bake them,” said Groom, of McCandless.

“I love baking because I can take something ordinary, like brownies, add a little creativity and make them extraordinary.”

She dreams of owning a bakery someday. But during the first fish fry on March 7, she was hand-dipping more than 120 pollock before taking charge of the fryer.

The biggest challenge, she said, was keeping up with demand.

“It took five to seven minutes to fry each batch,” she said. “It was hard keeping up with all the people coming in.”

Aaron Yurek, culinary supervisor and a culinary-arts instructor at Beattie, was elated by customer turnout the first day, when more than 200 dinners were sold.

“We weren't sure how many people to expect because we only publicized it through word of mouth,” said Yurek, 32, of Mars.

George Hudanick was one of the first customers. He has been hooked on the culinary students' fare for years.

Hudanick, 84, of Shaler Township comes to the Beattie dining room for lunch three days a week to enjoy entrées, sides and desserts — all made by the students from scratch in the school's kitchen.

“This is the best-kept secret in the North Hills. In order for my wife to cook what I get here, she'd have to cook for hours, and it would cost a whole lot more money, too,” he said.

The students offer sit-down, made-to-order breakfasts and buffet lunches to the public every Tuesday through Thursday for a nominal cost.

The meals provide students with real-world experience in planning and preparing meals and serving food to actual customers. All proceeds are used to cover expenses.

The fish fry, on the other hand, has a specific goal — raising $100 for each of the 11 students competing in Lancaster.

By the end of the first week's effort, the students already had netted about $800 — or about $73 per student. Additional money raised after the goal is met will go toward Beattie's other FCCLA-related expenses.

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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