By Sean Barron
Jenna Hartman looks forward to culinary school, but first, there were customers to see, an event to attend and Mediterranean orzo salads with pesto turkey to make.
“It’s good experience to work with different chefs around the [Mahoning] Valley,” said Hartman, a Canfield High School senior who is part of the Mahoning County Career & Technical Center’s culinary-arts program.
She and about 20 of her fellow students also were among more than 50 area restaurants and other regional vendors who took part in Saturday’s fourth annual Our Valley Cooks Food Expo at Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center, 7440 South Ave.
Proceeds from the eight-hour gathering were to benefit Meridian Community Care’s programs to help youngsters with addictions.
Many of the estimated 2,000 attendees were drawn to two half-hour cooking demonstrations by celebrity chef Jeff Mauro, who was the event’s featured attraction.
Mauro, of Elmwood Park, Ill., has his own program on the Food Network and is perhaps best known to viewers as “The Sandwich King.”
A standing-room-only crowd filled a room to see Mauro’s late-morning performance, which seemed at times to be a combination of food preparation, comedy and improvisation as he showed his audience ways to slice and preserve beef.
Mauro’s first time in the Valley might be considered a five-star visit — especially to the hundreds who sought his autograph after his demonstrations.
Numerous attendees also were attracted to the table at which Hartman and about 19 other MCCTC students busily prepared the orzo salads.
“My family is big in cooking, and I’ve always been around food,” said Hartman, who works at Johnny’s restaurant in Boardman and was accepted into the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
A tasty sampling of items for sale included colored cupcakes, pizzelles, jams and jellies, Italian sausage, fudge and hot sauces. Also available were scented candles, hand-crafted soaps and cutlery.
It might be easy to assume that in today’s fast-paced culture, consistently having meals at home has become anachronistic. But don’t tell that to Chrisi Ricker.
“We go to people’s homes and teach them how to make an economic meal because we want to bring them back to the table,” said Ricker, an independent sales director and trainer for the Pampered Chef, a company founded 32 years ago in Chicago.
Ricker, who’s worked 14 years with Pampered Chef, noted that the business conducts such demonstrations at people’s homes. A recipe averages $10 and takes roughly 30 minutes to prepare, she explained, adding that they are cheaper than most fast-food combination meals.
Those who came to the expo with a sweet tooth probably did not leave disappointed, especially if they ran into Raquel Bair-Scheetz.
Bair-Scheetz and her mother, Cheryl, own Sugar Showcase, a 46-year-old Austintown business started by Bair-Scheetz’s grandmother. It specializes in butter-cream cakes and offers many ways to enhance and decorate cakes, Bair-Scheetz said.
“We make cakes, cookies, candy — everything you can think of. [The colorful cupcakes] actually look pretty, and you can eat them,” Bair-Scheetz said with laughter.
Some vendors prepared foods at their homes and brought them to the expo, said Leanne Miller, Meridian’s marketing and development coordinator. She also praised Mauro for spicing up this year’s event.
“It’s been fantastic dealing with the local vendors,” as well as those who worked from home, Miller added.