Pittsburgh's food scene is growing, and has received national attention for the caliber of chefs and restaurants in town. Six chefs from those restaurants have been volunteering with local students, offering mentorship and guidance.
Since January 2018, students in McKees Rocks have been slicing, dicing and chopping.
"It's been fun. It's been a really good learning experience and I have learned a lot of stuff," said A'aijah Gomez, a 10th-grader at Pittsburgh CAPA.
The program is called “Steel Chef” and aims to introduce kids to the world of cooking while offering them mentoring from professional chefs.
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“I grew up in McKees Rocks, and there was nothing like this,” said Kevin Sousa, the chef and owner of Superior Motors restaurant in Braddock. “Nothing like this existed. Had I been exposed to, you know, a profession that was relatable to me, met people that were like me that had a similar background as me at a younger age ... I didn't start professionally cooking until I was 27. You know, after several failures at college and just trying to figure it all out. I just think it's a good opportunity for kids to not necessarily -- it doesn't even have to be about cooking, just be exposed to other things outside of their comfort zone,"
“It's really exciting. It's really exciting to see the kids so excited about cooking, and so excited about being a chef,” said Jessie Rattanni, the chef at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. “It gives me a lot of pride to see the kids in the area really excited about what's going on in the food scene.”
The teenagers taking part are of varying skill levels, but each said they're learning something and taking something valuable out of the program.
“I actually go to culinary school, so I'm already kind of familiar with all the simple stuff, like knife safety and stuff that they taught us. But I've learned stuff like garnishing and plating and stuff here," said Xavier Morris, an 11th-grader at West Mifflin Area High School.
Some of those lessons the teenagers are learning go beyond the kitchen.
“You guys can do it. You guys literally just took a crash course,” said Claudy Pierre, chef and owner of the Eminent Hospitality Group. “We talked about it before, but today, that's perfect. You guys listened, you guys followed directions, and then you guys executed, which is everything that we ever do. Everything in life, this is what we have to do: follow directions, execute, really pay attention to what we're doing.”
"That's what Steel Chef is: it's a fundraiser, it's job training, it's a mentorship opportunity, and it's an introduction to a world that these teens might not have seen at this age," said Lydia Morin, the director of engagement and enterprise for Focus on Renewal.
The fundraiser part is the culmination of the program. On March 12, the teens will face each other in a big cookoff, each hoping to win the title of “Steel Chef.”
The competition will be held at Father Ryan Arts Center, 420 Chartiers Ave., in McKees Rocks. Tickets are $10-$20.
To purchase tickets, click here.
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