‘Designing chefs’ heat up fundraising competition in North Huntingdon
Minutes after being introduced to each other on Sept. 19, four area restaurant chefs and their sous chefs are slicing and dicing, stirring and breading, putting on a cooking show/fundraising competition at The Kitchen by Vangura in North Huntingdon .
While colleagues, friends and family cheer them on, the teams prepare small plates, each incorporating tomatoes into their recipes. Representing professional designing organizations, each of the assistant chefs is raising money for a charity.
Krystal Vangura, director of customer relations for The Kitchen by Vangura, says the event is an effort to bring together members of each of the organizations and give them a chance to meet and mingle.
That they do, as they gather around the large cooking stations, inching closer to the action as pots begin simmering and fresh vegetables are chopped.
The winning plate
At evening’s end, it is the wagyu steak caprese, created by chef Jeff Maag of Eddie Merlot’s restaurant, and his sous chef, Nancy Sudsina, representing the National Kitchen and Bath Association, prepare that wins the most votes.
Also pairing up for the event are chef Giuseppe DiGristina of Bella Sera and Sara Hardy, representing the American Institute of Architects, who make medallions of pork loin with a pizzaiola sauce. Chef Nicholas Saxon of Braddock’s Rebellion works with Erin Faith, of the American Society of Interior Designers, on chicken boursin, deep fried and served with a tomato fondue. Chef Brandon Cain of Coast & Main instructs Debbie Lindewirth, of the National Association of Home Builders/Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh, in preparing a cold salmon salad stuffed heirloom tomato, arugula salad and tomato gazpacho.
“We went to each one of those entities and asked them if they wanted to put up a representative and compete. Each chose a charity. Then we went out and found the chefs. We were looking for groups of chefs that can work well together,” Vangura says.
Not exactly amateurs
Their roles may have been as assistants, but each of the women competing is accomplished in the kitchen.
Hardy of Greensburg works for Gaskill Architecture in Butler County and is raising money for the Ovarian Cancer Coalition.
“I was just talking to Giuseppe about my marinara. I grow the tomatoes in my garden. I can. My mom owned a bakery (Denise’s Sweetie Pie Shoppe) when I was growing up. I try to get her to write down her recipes, but she’s very (guarded) about that,” she says, laughing.
Lindewirth, of Prospect, owns Masterpiece Kitchens in Harmony and is raising money for the Veterans Place.
Scooping out the insides of grape tomatoes, she recalls cooking for her children when they were young. One daughter is now a pastry chef, she says. “My kids loved my meatloaf. I make it in cupcake tins for my four granddaughters,” Lindewirth says.
Sudsina’s charity is the Cameron Heyward Foundation.
The McCandless Township resident is kitchen and bath manager/designer for Allegheny Millwork & Lumber in Pittsburgh.
She acknowledges that her husband is the main cook in the family, but says she enjoys “baking anything.”
“I make a really good creme de menthe cheesecake,” she says.
Stretching fresh mozzarella and dropping balls into an ice bath while her husband looks on, Sudsina laughs.
“It’s like playing with Play-Doh. And I’m a good sport,” she says.
Erin Faith of Swissvale is owner of Faith Color Consulting & Design in Pittsburgh and is raising funds for the American Cancer Society. “I cook mainly out of necessity. I enjoy it,” she says, rolling chicken and boursin cheese onto strips of zucchini.
“My grandmother passed down a beef brisket recipe. That’s the best thing I make,” she adds.
After 90 minutes of some intense preparations, the chefs begin plating and serving the guests.
“Game on, game on, man,” Maag teases Saxon. “It’s a friendly game,” Saxon responds, grinning.
Admission tickets, a 50/50 drawing and Chinese auction all contributed to the fundraising effort.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter .