Heat is on at student cookoff at at Pittsburgh Technical Institute

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Fried chicken and green beans make a perfectly acceptable dinner.

But aspiring high school chefs were challenged to stretch their imaginations beyond the conventional meal when asked to prepare a chicken dish with a green vegetable in a cooking contest Saturday.

Four teams competed in a cookoff hosted by the American Academy of Culinary Arts at Pittsburgh Technical Institute, or PTI, in North Fayette.

Kiarah Nelson of Norwin High School and Sabrina Staats of Greensburg Salem High School won first place for their bacon-wrapped, spinach- and cheese-stuffed chicken, along with gnocchi, kale chips and a julienne of mixed vegetables.

Each of the Central Westmoreland Career & Technology Center students won a $5,000 partial-tuition scholarship to the culinary school, which offers a 21-month associate degree course and a 15-month certificate program.

Chef director Norman Hart was pleased that instructors, family members and fellow students attended the competition to support the teams.

"The cookoff was outstanding," he said. "I was shocked at the level of the quality and workmanship of the dishes prepared by these high school vo-tech students."

Judges included culinary school chef Amanda Flesch and three chefs from local eateries -- Panfield DiNicola of Giant Eagle Market District, Brett Flesch of Oakmont Country Club and Chris Galarza from Off the Hook.

The panel ranked the teams and awarded trophies, ribbons and scholarships.

Teams from the Parkway West Career & Technology Center in North Fayette won second and fourth place. Cheyene Edwards of Carlynton High School and Brandy Peoples of Quaker Valley High School won $3,000 scholarships, while Sam Wilcox of Carlynton and Michael Scimio of Quaker Valley won $1,000 scholarships.

The $2,000 scholarships for third place went to the Northern Westmoreland Career & Technology Center team of Alicia Ehrensberger and Renee Graham, both from Kiski Area High School.

The students who competed are enrolled in culinary programs at their vocational and career schools.

"Participating was an honor because they were hand-selected by an instructor," PTI spokeswoman Linda Allan said.

The cooking contenders also attended a master class at the culinary school, which opened earlier this year on PTI's McKee Road campus.

A second group of teams is scheduled to compete for scholarships on Nov. 23. The students are from the Cornell, Upper St. Clair, North Allegheny and McGuffey school districts in Western Pennsylvania, and the Edison and Steubenville school districts in Ohio.

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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