By Natalie Lariccia


Valley cooks who want to compete have until Jan. 24 to enter.

BOARDMAN — Do you have an exotic entr e or coveted cookie recipe that is the envy of all your friends?

Do you love to spend time in the kitchen or dream of attending a celebrity cooking show?

Then don’t be shy about your culinary creativity. Submit those rave-review recipes to the Our Valley Cooks recipe challenge contest — it could be your meal ticket to success.

Our Valley Cooks will be hosted March 6 at Mr. Anthony’s and is a unique, daylong food-themed expo benefiting Meridian Services Inc., a nonprofit addiction and mental-health-care organization based in Youngstown, said Larry Moliterno, Meridian chief executive officer.

In addition to the recipe challenge contest, the event will feature a live cooking challenge and an appearance by Food Network chef Melissa d’Arabian.

Our Valley Cooks debuted in 2009 as a fun and creative event to highlight area cooks and raise awareness and funds for Meridian, Moliterno said. More than 1,500 people attended last year’s event, and about 100 Valley residents submitted recipes for the recipe challenge. Moliterno said he hopes this year will draw an even larger crowd.

This year’s sponsors include Sparkle Markets, Gia Russa, Summer Garden Culinary Arts Center and the Ohio Farm Bureau.

Recipe contest details

The deadline for area cooks to submit recipes is Jan. 24. Recipes can be submitted online at or by downloading the entry form from the Web site and mailing it to the address on the form. Applications are also available at local Sparkle Markets.

There is a $10 entry fee, and all entrants receive a complimentary ticket to the event, a $10 gift card to Catullo Prime Meats and an opportunity to win a VIP meet-and-greet session with d’Arabian.

Area chefs will evaluate recipes and select three finalists in each of the three categories — pasta, entr e and dessert. The finalists will then prepare their recipes in front of a live audience at the event and will be judged by the local chefs.

“We wanted to do something that was fun. Something the community could be proud of and look forward to year after year and raise money for a good cause. ... This [event] gives the average folks an opportunity to cook in front of an audience and have their food critiqued by local chefs,” Moliterno said.

The grand-prize winner, who will be selected by d’Arabian, will be named the “Best Valley Cook” and will receive a trip for two to New York City, an invitation to view a taping of “Iron Chef America” and a gift certificate for one of Mario Batali’s New York City restaurants.

The finalists in the categories will each receive a cash prize.

Last year’s pasta winner

Barbi Morell, a Canfield resident and retired sales manager, was the 2009 pasta winner for her “Nam Thai Chi Chicken and Noodles” recipe.

A self-described “homemade scratch cook,” Morell said she enjoyed last year’s event and is planning to enter a few selections for this year’s recipe challenge contest.

“I was so shocked to be a finalist. It’s so amazing ... I think I missed my calling. I should have done this earlier in my life,” she said.

Morell, who received a $500 cash prize for her award-winning recipe, said she was inspired to create the colorful dish from a meal she and her husband, Joe, shared at a Cleveland Asian-themed restaurant.

The dish, which combines tender chicken with a light sauce consisting of soy, teriyaki and fish sauces atop a bed of fettucini pasta, was one of her first attempts at an Asian meal, she said.

“I’d never in my life cooked an Asian dish — not even a packet of fried rice. I didn’t even have soy sauce in my fridge,” Morell said.

Ron Quaranta, Jr., owner of Caffe Capri Italian Bar and Grill in Boardman, was a judge at last year’s event and said he is looking forward to returning as a judge for this year’s event.

He recommends entrants submit simple recipes that are not overseasoned. Most importantly, he said, participants should remember to relax and to enjoy the day.

“It’s a great community event. It’s a given opportunity, and you’re going to have a captive audience,” Quaranta said.

Richard “Chook” Alberini, owner of Alberini’s Restaurant in Niles, also said he’s looking forward to his role as a judge.

“I really respect all the people that work so hard to put this [event] together. Events like this are morale boosters for the Valley. It shows that even in tough times, the Valley is resilient,” he said.

Moliterno said the event also includes nearly 50 vendors featuring a wide array of culinary products, kitchen supplies and food samples.

Event organizers are also looking for volunteers for the event-planning committee and volunteers to serve the day of the event, Moliterno said. Those interested in volunteering can submit their names through the “contact us” tab on

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