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Inside Scoop: Pens Chef cooking competition

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Penguins development camp is all about learning how to be a professional hockey player, and nutrition is such an important part of that. So is a having high compete level.

The team decided to bring both aspects together by having the prospects participate in a "Pens Chef" cooking competition at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, overseen by Penguins chef Geoff Straub. 

"The point of our competition today was not only for team building - obviously a little healthy competition helps - but also trying to teach them some basic cooking skills they could take back to their houses, apartments, colleges, wherever they live," Straub explained. "So that way, they can really focus in on eating good and healthy homemade food. Living in college and living with other people, you might not get that. It's easy to go grab a pizza or a sub or something like that."

The 41 prospects were split into groups of eight, with each team named after an NHL trophy - Calder, Hart, Vezina, Selke, Art Ross, Lady Byng, Maurice Richard and Ted Lindsay. Four groups made shrimp scampi, while the other four groups made beef fried rice.

Before they began, Straub demonstrated how to make each dish while the prospects watched. He gave them tips and tricks throughout the process, like telling them that salt and pepper are the two most important ingredients and he prefers using avocado oil when cooking.

After that, the groups were given their recipes and a cooler filled with the requisite ingredients. They could follow the recipes exactly using the ingredients they were given, or add extra ingredients to their dishes from a table displaying vegetables and eggs. 

They had 30 minutes to complete their dishes, which would be ranked in two categories: taste and creativity. Once the players donned their black aprons that read "2019 Development Camp" across the front, Straub started the clock.

"When we said go and they started, it was really fun," Straub said. "They were into it, they were adding ingredients, they had creativity with how they were plating things. It was unbelievable."

Once the guys got the pans heated and the proteins cooking, Matt Jurusik (Hart) and Jake Lucchini (Maurice Richard) were the first players to check out the table. The competitive spirit was evident.

"I'm trying to look for something but I don't want to tell you what it is," Jurusik joked to Lucchini.

The members of Lady Byng were worried about the taste aspect of their beef fried rice, so they focused on creativity, with Nathan Legare suggesting that they rim the entire plate with carrot slices. They quickly realized they had an opportunity to do something even better.

"The one team made a smiley face with carrots and bok choy," Straub laughed. "It was something."

The rest of the teams also brought their A-games presentation-wise. For example, Art Ross made a perfect sunny-side-up egg to top their beef fried rice, with teammates cautioning Brandon Hawkins to use "soft hands!" as he slid it onto the plate.

After the groups finished cooking, it was time to determine the winners - one for the shrimp scampi, one for the beef fried rice. Penguins broadcasters Phil Bourque and Josh Getzoff and PensTV host Celina Pompeani served as the judges.

"I was very impressed, actually," Getzoff said. "I don't know what I was expecting, but I know that when I was their age I was never cooking (laughs). So to be able to have eight different dishes that they all kind of put their own spin on was a cool thing."

After tasting each dish, the results were in. Team Calder - Roman Ahcan, Niclas Almari, Chase Berger, Alex D'Orio, Filip Hallander and Ryan Jones - won for their beef fried rice. Team Vezina - Calen Addison, Jordy Bellerive, Matt Boucher, Judd Caulfield and Jan Drozg - won for their shrimp scampi. 

Each group said the key ingredient to their success was teamwork.

"We divided up the jobs a little bit," Bellerive said. "Matt did most of the grill work. Me and Addy and Judd and Jan divided up the table work. I did most of the chopping and the presentation. I think that gave us the edge there in the end, so I'm really happy with it (laughs)."

Bellerive watches a lot of Top Chef and Top Chef Canada and follows celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay on social media, so this is something he was looking forward to. And while he does a decent amount of cooking for himself in the summers, he still got a lot out of today's competition.

"It's always good to learn new skills," Bellerive said. "We learned a lot, actually, in a brief little session there. We had a lot of fun."

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