The Food Column: Another Western Pennsylvanian is on food TV

Western Pennsylvanians are showing up big-time on cooking shows these days.

Ebensburg’s Lauren Kudlawiec was the runner-up of Rachael Ray’s cookbook competition in a five-part TV series that ended May 19. And now Meadville native Gavin Edmondson is a contestant on the fifth season of “MasterChef,” which debuted this past Monday.

Ironically, Mr. Edmondson, an admissions counselor for Rosalind Franklin University in Illinois, doesn’t even own a TV. A friend had to coerce him to attend auditions for the show in Chicago.

The 26-year-old remembers the very first thing he ever cooked, at age 9: fish sticks, canned carrots and canned asparagus. He was incredibly proud of himself and thought it was the greatest meal ever; his mom gamely ate it but laughed.

He grew up enjoying his father’s Cajun, Creole and Southern cooking and, “I didn’t realize how good I had it” until he went off to Penn State and had to live on cafeteria food. Once he got an off-campus apartment, he began cooking for himself in earnest. He now has a special reverence for French cooking, especially sauces and consommes.

“I’ll spend hours reducing a sauce,” he said.

Ahead of time, he wasn’t terribly stressed out about appearing on the TV show, which features host and judge Gordon Ramsay as well as fellow judges chef Graham Elliot and restaurateur Joe Bastianich.

But once Mr. Edmondson got there, he found that being on camera was a lot more stressful than he’d anticipated.

“People are yelling at you all the time, and you don’t know where things are,” he said. “I practiced a lot and cooked at friends’ house” where he wasn’t familiar with the kitchen layout, but nothing was enough to prepare him for every scenario.

This season, the “MasterChef” contestants face such challenges as working in teams to prepare a meal for more than 500 military members on an Army base, creating a three-course meal for a summer wedding, visiting a local diner to prepare American classics, cooking a romantic dinner for 14 couples, serving game-day favorites for football fans, and taking over a well-known Hollywood restaurant.

Mr. Edmonson’s lips are sealed, as the show’s finale doesn’t air until September. But he said the experience has inspired him to consider a culinary career.

He can be seen on the show at 8 p.m. Mondays on Fox.

Meanwhile, below is a recipe he shared. 

Wine & beer events

A Tour & Tasting in Old Allegheny: This year’s theme is “A Taste of Italy,” so guests will learn about the Italian heritage of homes and gardens in Allegheny West on the North Side, as well as enjoy Italian wines and appetizers. 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, June 6, and Saturday, June 7. $65 per person. Information: Tickets: 888-71-TICKETS.

Pennsylvania Microbrewers’ Fest: 25 breweries offer samples, plus live entertainment and food. Two sessions: 1 to 4 p.m. or 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, June 7, at Penn Brewery, North Side. $45 per person; ages 21 and up only.

“Bring Back the Magic” Wine Festival: Wines, tapas, wine auction and live entertainment. 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 7, at Hoyt Center for the Arts in New Castle. $100; ages 21 and up only. Proceeds benefit the Hoyt’s After School Arts program. 724-652-2882.

Pennsylvania Wine & Food Festival: Pennsylvania wines, live entertainment, souvenirs. Two sessions: 1 to 4 p.m. or 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, June 14, at Monroeville Convention Center. $20 per person or $35 for a pair in advance; $25 per person or $45 for a pair at the door. (click “Pennsylvania Wine & Food Festival”).

2014 Food and Wine Classic: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday, June 16, at Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center, Ross. $65 ($45 for Pittsburgh North Regional Chamber members). (click “Calendar” and find event on the June page).

Other events

Greek Food Festival: Moussaka, tiropita, spanakopita, pastitso. Lamb shanks, Greek pastries. 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 11, through Saturday, June 14, at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Mt. Lebanon. or 412-854-6001.

Five Alarm Mountain Madness Chili Cook-Off: Chili tastings and voting, celebrity judges, craft beer samples, children’s activities, adventure sports and live entertainment. Saturday, June 14, at Nemacolin in Farmington. 866-344-6957.

Take the Big Cheese to Brunch: Father’s Day brunch with chefs, cheesemongers, cocktails and craft beer. 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, June 15, indoors and out at Choderwood on the Allegheny River near Highland Park. $38 ($32 for Slow Food Pittsburgh members). For an invitation, e-mail


Puff Pastry (homemade preferred)

1¾ cup whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons cornstarch

4 egg yolks

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Splash of cognac (optional)

12 small strawberries, cut in half

Prepare the Vol-au-vents: Cut puff pastry into discs approximately 2½ inches in diameter and ⅓ of an inch thick. In one half of the discs, poke with a fork and lay out on a parchment sheet-covered baking pan. Remove the center of the other half of the discs, being careful to keep the puff pastry cold while disturbing the puff pastry as little as possible. Brush the discs with egg wash, and stack the rings on top of the discs, and brush the tops of the rings with egg wash, being careful not to wet the sides of the rings. Bake at 375 degrees until puffed and golden brown, approximately 15 minutes. Let cool.

Prepare pastry cream: Add the milk, sugar and salt to a small saucepan. Whisk together and warm the mixture until it is too hot to comfortably keep your fingers in the liquid. Add the cornstarch and whisk well. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks together, and slowly add in half the milk mixture while whisking constantly. Add the mixture back into the saucepan.

Continue to heat through until the mixture has thickened, being careful not to bring the temperature above 163 degrees. As it approaches 160 to 163 degrees, add butter and whisk it in as it melts. Remove mixture from heat and strain to remove any curdles from the pastry cream. Add in the vanilla and cognac if using.

Let the cream cool in the refridgerator with plastic wrap against the surface. Pipe into the vol-au-vents and top each of them with a strawberry half.

Makes 18 to 24 pastries.

— Gavin Edmondson

Rebecca Sodergren: and on Twitter @pgfoodevents.


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