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Using fresh U.S. pears as their inspiration, and competition to be the best among their peers as motivation, three U.S. culinary students were chosen as finalists in the Pear Bureau Northwest's first U.S. student culinary competition. All three students prepared their creations for a panel of judges in an American Idol-style presentation at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, OR.

Nicole Mau, a student at South Seattle Community College in Seattle, took top honors, winning a scholarship prize of $2,500 with her Red Anjou pear frite, a creative composition of lightly fried rice pudding molded into a pear shape, filled with pear compote, then topped with a clove and bay leaf to complete the pear look. The pear frite was served with a pear sorbet to balance the flavors and textures of the total dish.

Andrea Howard, a student at the Florida Culinary Institute in West Palm Beach, FL, came in second place and won $1,500 with her pear risotto and pear poached in red wine, a unique marriage of two complementary dishes. In third place was Dallas Hinesly of the Texas Culinary Institute in Austin, TX, who created sweet potato and pear gnocchi with grilled pork and a balsamic pear glaze, capturing a $500 prize.

All entries were awarded points for prominent use of fresh pears, originality, creativity, appearance, texture and taste. Each of the three finalists prepared her dishes and presented them to the panel of judges consisting of Kathy Hayden, editor of Flavor & the Menu magazine; Ericka Carlson of Edible Portland magazine; and Chef DJ Wendeborn, chef instructor at the Western Culinary Institute. Judges scored each dish and gave comments to the students in an American Idol-style event.

Each of the finalists' schools, along with the host school, the Western Culinary Institute, received a donation to their respective scholarship funds from the Pear Bureau Northwest.

The Western Culinary Institute, www.wci.edu, is located in downtown Portland, OR, and offers a full spectrum of culinary education combining the history and teachings of Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School with a challenging and comprehensive curriculum.