Three culinary students recently competed in Portland, Oregon, in the USA Pears Third Annual Culinary Student Recipe Competition.

Student Charles O’Neill of the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park campus, took top honors from the judges to win a scholarship prize of $2,500, as well as the People’s Choice award from the audience, with his “Pomegranate Pear French Toast.”

It may have been just the right balance of flavors and texture with the challah bread stuffed with cream cheese and pears poached in pomegranate juice that convinced the judges and the audience; or perhaps it was the jug of real maple syrup O’Neill carried from his home in Massachusetts.

Student Jacqui Wou of Santa Barbara City College in California earned the second place prize of a $1,000 scholarship for her sweet and savory “Perfectly ‘Peared’ Lamb,” an entrée with Chianti-poached pears, seared lamb, potatoes “Anna” and a sauce with figs, Meyer lemon and tart cherries.

Student Michelle Soto of Le Cordon Bleu in Portland was awarded a $500 scholarship for her Northwest-inspired “Savory Pear and Basil Mini Cheesecake” appetizer layered with a pear onion marmalade, a filling of three cheeses, and a hazelnut crust.

All entries were awarded points in the following categories: prominent use of fresh pears, originality, creativity, appearance, texture and taste. Each of the three finalists prepared their dishes and presented them to the panel of judges, Mary Petersen, president of the Center for the Advancement of Foodservice Education; chef David Anderson of Genoa in Portland; and chef DJ Wendeborn, lead chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu.

The judges scored each dish and gave comments to the students, in an American Idol-style event.

The three students were chosen from more than 100 from around the country and each prepared an appetizer, an entrée, and a breakfast recipe featuring fresh USA pears.

Each of the finalists’ schools, along with host school, Le Cordon Bleu, received a donation to their respective scholarship funds from the Pear Bureau Northwest.

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