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Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Culinary Conference, Day 1

Last week I had the chance to tag along with my sister as she attended an educator’s conference at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

She teaches home economics (although they don’t call it that anymore) at an inner-city high school. Basically she gives knives to angry, impoverished children, tells them to chop things, and hopes for the best.

This wasn’t our first foray into Pittsburgh. We used to sneak over for similar offerings at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute. Sadly, it closed last year. Enter the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. I learned a lot of new things last week, namely that the Art Institute isn’t an art gallery; it’s a college. They offer a four-year bachelor of science in culinary arts, along with many other degrees. I thought this would be news to everyone, but my smarty-pants husband already knew it was a college. Someday I’ll discover something he doesn’t already know. *insert Scarlet O’Hara-style fist shake*

Anyway, Pittsburgh now seems like an old friend after so many visits, and yet there are still new places (read: bakeries) to discover. Like this place.


They’re famous for their chocolate chip cookies. I bought a dozen. Here’s a picture of The Precious.


For supper we headed to Fathead’s, a local institution.

Famous for their sandwiches (especially one that Maxim magazine listed as one of its top ten sandwiches in the nation), they offer large portions and make their own buns. I wasn’t hungry for some reason (did I mention I bought a dozen cookies? Because I bought a dozen cookies) so I stuck with soup and a pretzel.

After only eating a pretzel and soup for supper, I needed sustenance. I found it here.

If this wasn’t the best milkshake I’ve ever had, it was definitely in the top five.

Sick and miserable in that delightful way that happens after consuming too much good food, we headed back to our hotel to prep for day one of the conference. It started with Old Bay seasoning. I don’t know why. We made our own.

And then used some of the original in a low-country boil. Here’s an action shot of me and my sister cooking. (I’m not wearing makeup. It was an early morning. Don’t judge me.)

Here’s our final product. The culinary students cured the sausage.

I sneaked over and took a picture of their assignment–Salad Niҫoise.

The second half of the day was a fascinating glimpse into the Culinary Olympics. (Did you know we had those? I didn’t.) The event began in 1896 and is held every year in Erfurt, Germany. Each competing country sends five chefs–four savory and one pastry. This is one of the competitors, Shawn Culp.

He described the grueling application process and the two-day audition that makes Top Chef look like child’s play. The main event is this October. He and his team have been practicing every month for the past three years, and most of his financing comes from his own pocket. Oh, and the winners don’t get any money. After explaining how the games work, he created a deconstructed caprese salad for us.

What do you do after listening to an all-day lecture on food? Find a biscotti bakery, of course.

This is Enrico Biscotti, one of our frequent stops whenever we’re in town. It’s in the strip–a downtown section of Pittsburgh reminiscent of the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s ethnic; it’s busy; it’s wonderful. Here’s a really crummy picture of the strip because I feel bad about not taking any pictures of anything besides food, restaurants, and chefs.

Supper was at Smoke, a smoked meat establishment that specializes in tacos.

There were only a few items on the menu, but they were all done well. This might be one of my top-ten favorite restaurants. The best part? The price was great, like buying street food with a comfortable place to sit. It was so good, in fact, that I started eating before I remembered to take a picture of my food. Heh, heh. Did I mention they season their pinto beans with bacon? And now you understand my impatience to get started.

Dessert was here.

Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor is an old-school soda shop. It looks and smells like nothing has been touched since 1934, but in a good way. After that things went downhill. The night turned into a doughnut hunt that lasted for the better part of the evening. Only those truly devoted to deep-fried pastry would understand. Suffice it to say we ended up at a Dunkin Donuts in a part of town we’ve never seen before. Maybe it didn’t really exist because they were having buy six, get six free, a magical event that seemed almost too good to be true.

Soon after, we fell into sugar comas, content with the knowledge that on the morrow we would be making cheese.


About vanessagraybartal

Author. Eater. Wife. Mother. Not necessarily in that order.

3 responses to “Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Culinary Conference, Day 1

  1. Val ⋅

    You don’t have your make up on???? I looked at my picture and actually moo’d. And you think people will notice you don’t have make up on???? On another note I relived every delicious detail through pictures. Mmmm… Nancy B’s…

  2. Angie ⋅

    I eagerly await Day 2….

  3. Marcella Gray ⋅

    I almost felt like I was there…..except for tasting.

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