Quaker Valley students can take the heat; pair win scholarships in culinary competition

| Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Two Quaker Valley High School students who say they plan to make cooking their careers have made a good start by winning scholarships in a culinary competition.

Juniors Brandy Peoples of Leet and Michael Scimio of Leetsdale placed second and fourth, respectively, in the Great American Chef High School Cookoff earlier this month at the Pittsburgh Technical Institute, or PTI.

Peoples, daughter of Elizabeth Peoples and the late Robert Irwin — along with her partner, Cheyene Edwards, a Carlynton High School student — each were awarded a $3,000 PTI scholarship.

Scimio, son of Paul and Paula Scimio, won fourth place along with his partner Sam Wilcox, a Carlynton student. They each were awarded a $1,000 PTI scholarship.

Peoples and Scimio have been culinary-arts students at Parkway West Career and Technology Center in North Fayette for three years.

They were selected by their Parkway teachers to participate in the competition, hosted by the American Academy of Culinary Arts, or AACA, at PTI. The second part of the competition, involving several other teams, will be on Saturday.

Both said they plan to use their scholarships to study culinary arts at PTI, which offers a 21-month AACA culinary arts associate's degree and a 15-month culinary-arts certificate.

Peoples said her interest in cooking began when, as a little girl, she helped her mother, grandmother and aunt. For the competition, she and her partner made star-shaped mashed potatoes using a pastry bag and pan-fried chicken breast made with homemade bread crumbs and a brandy wine cheese sauce.

Peoples, who said her favorite thing to make is dessert, will compete in another culinary contest through Parkway and SkillsUSA, which features regional, state and national levels.

Scimio said he has been cooking “all his life” and started with his late grandfather, who was 100 percent Italian and cooked “all the time.”

For the competition, he and his partner made peppered chicken over a bed of fettuccine with a brandy cream sauce.

Scimio said he cooks a lot for his family and has been the main chef for three years at the yearly Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center's Thanksgiving dinner through his Freemason DeMolay International youth group.

He said he definitely is a “main entree kind of guy” and likes the challenge of cooking.

Scimio said the competition was well thought out and challenging for the high school level.

The competition gave the high school chefs one hour to prepare and cook and 15 minutes to plate. Each team was given a list of ingredients and used the AACA pantry at PTI to create their own dishes.

Janet Jennings, PTI cook-off coordinator, said PTI began its AACA culinary program in July and wanted to host the competition in its new kitchen.

Before the students competed, they took a master prep class with AACA chef director Norman Hart and chef instructor Amanda Flesch, who demonstrated basic cooking methods and skills in the new kitchen. Then, students were able to practice on their own and with their instructors.

Jennings said the competition featured a floor judge who watched everything the students did and evaluated expertise in movement, knife skills, cooperating and communicating with each other, safety and sanitary guidelines, and cleanup.

Another panel of judges tasted the food and rated presentation, communication skills and creativity.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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