It was a good day to experience a culinary adventure.
Basking under a sunny sky with temperatures in the mid-70s, attendees of the second annual South Hills Food Festival enjoyed cooking demonstrations, free samples and tours of the school Wednesday afternoon as part of Happy Valley Culinary Week.
As local chefs prepared savory dishes and shared their techniques and recipes with curious onlookers, local musicians provided an acoustic backdrop to the scene, creating the welcoming atmosphere that was the goal of the event itself.
Hosting the festival at the South Hills School of Business and Technology seemed like a natural arrangement to promote community involvement, said Lori Miller, of the Central Pennsylvania Convention and Visitors Bureau. The bureau had been struggling with finding space downtown to showcase chef demonstrations, and South Hills was able to provide space for the community.
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“Usually you don’t get to see the chefs in action,” South Hills outreach director Jeff Stachowski said. “This is one of the few venues that you get to see some of the best chefs in central Pa. and taste some of the things they have to offer.”
This year marks the third culinary week, Miller said. Participating restaurants offer a fixed price menu all week, giving them the opportunity to push a new special or try a new dish. It also gives diners a chance to check out a restaurant they may not have visited before.
“For people who like to eat out, it’s a great week to do it,” she said.
Demonstrations were often standing room only affairs, seats filling quickly to watch the next culinary masterpiece. Chefs presented their creations in two separate tents, allowing for a constant rotation of creation, from pizza and pad thai to ravioli and bruschetta.
Executive chef Brandon Agostinelli, of Home D Pizzeria, whipped up a house-crafted wild mushroom ravioli in white truffle sauce for his audience, expertly flattening the pasta, sautéing the mushrooms and garlic before mixing it with a house-made mushroom powder and cooking the finished ravioli.
Samples of the treat did not last long.
Agostinelli, 26, said he’s been cooking for about nine years and has only been with Home D since coming to the area from Pittsburgh in September. He said the restaurant has been staying busy during the culinary week as it moves into higher-end entrees to stay competitive with other local restaurants.
He was asked if he wanted to be part of the festival demonstration, saying, “I wanted to bring more excitement to the restaurant, since this is our slowest month. They asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said yes.”
Laura Sommers, of Boalsburg, said she was invited by a friend and had been sampling the different products and learning from the chefs since the festival started. She said she liked the educational component of the event — the sharing of recipes, techniques and components.
“The focus on local ingredients has been nice too,” she said. “There’s a big emphasis on that.”
Sommers said she was looking forward to trying some of the recipes she learned herself.