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A creative pear and scallop appetizer took top prize March 31 at the second annual USA Pears Culinary Student Recipe competition, which is open to U.S. culinary students nationwide.

The recipe, called simply Pears & Scallops, was created by Texas Culinary Academy student John (Keith) Paugh and featured fresh pears poached in Riesling and seasoned with cayenne pepper, vanilla bean, bay leaf, cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon. The poached pears were then sliced into the same size and shape as the sea scallops that were featured in the dish. The scallops were garnished with sliced pears and the scallop-shaped pears were garnished with sliced scallops.

Mr. Paugh and two other student finalists prepared their recipes for a panel of four judges in an American Idol-style presentation.

Cindy Bolla of South Seattle Community College took second prize with her Pear Braised Pork Belly, and Adrienne Brennan of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, took third place with her Fazzoletti with Pear, Pancetta, and Radicchio.

The three students were selected from a collection of nearly 100 entries from students across the nation, and won travel and hotel accommodations to Portland, OR, to compete for the top cash prize. In addition, all of the finalists' schools are receiving a donation to their respective scholarship funds from Pear Bureau Northwest.

Judging the competition were Kathy Hayden, editor of Flavor and the Menu magazine; David Katz, chef-owner of MeMe restaurant in Philadelphia; Jennifer Heigl, managing editor of DailyBlender.com; and DJ Wendeborn, chef instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Portland.

"Our culinary student competitions provide an excellent medium for educating and engaging future chefs about the versatility of pears on the menu," Dennis James, director of marketing for the Pear Bureau Northwest, said in an April 6 press release. "We receive incredibly creative recipes from students across the country, and we're pleased to see them using fresh pears in such inspired ways."

A similar contest is being conducted in Canada this spring, where five regional winners will be named later this month. Those top five students will travel to Vancouver, BC, to compete in person at a finale to be conducted May 11 in conjunction with the Canadian Produce Marketing Association convention and trade show taking place the same week.