Pies were flying at the Sabin-Schellenberg Professional Technical Center (SSC) this afternoon for the second annual Top That! Pizza Bake-off. Seven teams of high school students enrolled in Culinary Arts at SSC competed to wow the panel of judges with the perfect pizza. The catch: the first pie could be made as meaty and cheesy as students pleased, but the second had to be vegan, made with Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour and Lisanatti Foods cheese alternatives. It was a testament as to how the teens could take finicky flour and oddly textured cheeses and make the products shine.
It was up to the taste buds of well-versed judges, including co-publisher and editor of Northwest Palate, Cole Danehower, pastry instructor Robert Parks at the Oregon Culinary Institute, Owner of Flying Pie Pizza, Ty Dupuis, KOIN reporter Carly Kennelly, and Mayors Rob Wheeler of Happy Valley and Jeremy Ferguson of Milwaukie, to pick the winner based on the culmination of ingredients, presentation, professionalism, originality and taste. The kitchen was sweltering with nerves, contestants vying for the $150 grand prize awarded to each member of the winning teams.
Poise and professionalism were brought to the display table as each group of students had five minutes to present, explain, slice, and serve their pizza to the panel. Pizzas were inspired by anything from take-out Pad Thai to seasonal ingredients, like butternut squash. Some were sprinkled with teriyaki sauce, others with soy Parmesan cheese. Peppery bacon, jerk chicken with mango sauce, apple slices, bell peppers – even whole cubes of pan-fried tofu. Pies were round or rectangular, thin – to showcase the flavors of the vegetables – or thick, using a recipe derived from pretzel dough. The crust was spiked with a touch of red pepper or a hint of rosemary, left to rise for a quick twenty minutes or a lengthy forty-five, then brushed with olive oil and seasoned.
From inside these teenagers – the top pizza makers whittled down from 400 to 40 in the past two months– burst unreserved creativity and a knack for both basic culinary techniques and flavor pairings. Though the cash prize was attractive enough to motivate students to churn out the gooiest pie, the real objective was more about the lesson learned. That is, how to cook healthful, attractive meals and sell their worth to an audience.