Cathy cookie contest takes the cake

Chef+Randolph+Russell+from+Sodexo+constructs+a+model+Cathedral+of+Learning+out+of+gingerbread.+

Caela Go | Staff Photographer

Chef Randolph Russell from Sodexo constructs a model Cathedral of Learning out of gingerbread.

By Diana Velasquez, Staff Writer

For college kids, the biggest draw to any event is the promise of free food. But Pitt students love only one thing as much as they love free treats — Cathy.

They had the opportunity to combine the two with The Cathy Cookie Bake-Off, hosted by Pitt Residence Life, which transformed the William Pitt Union Ballroom on Tuesday into a candy wonderland. For the main event, students formed teams to make Cathedrals of Learning out of slates of rice krispies and brownies.

There was no actual baking involved in the event, and the only cookies featured were premade sugar cookies shaped into the Pitt logo, which could be decorated by attendees not competing with sprinkles, food dye and frosting. But that didn’t stop students from trying their hands at sweet architecture.

Immanuela Obisie-Orlu, a sophomore psychology major, said she came to the event with the hope of making cookies, but was quick to bounce back from any disappointment when tempted with the rice krispies and other sweets to consume.

“Honestly I thought we were gonna be making Cathy out of cookies. I don’t know why I thought that, but I don’t mind, I’m here to eat too,” she said.

In the middle section of the ballroom, students constructed their Cathy cookies on long tables, while at the table in front, chef Randolph Russell from Sodexo, Pitt’s dining contactor, made his own model out of gingerbread. For two hours, students labored over their respective creations, supplied with Rice Krispies and brownies for the structure and icing and other colorful candy for decoration.

Caela Go | Staff Photographer
Students use rice crispies, graham crackers, frosting and other sweets to construct replicas of the Cathedral of Learning at Tuesday evening’s “Cathy Cookie Bake-Off.”

At the end of the event, three winners were crowned — one each in the categories of structure and integrity, styling and creativity. DaVaughn Vincent-Bryan, assistant Director of Pitt Res Life and one of the three event judges, said it was important to have judges who could critique the pieces properly, so Res Life made sure to get specialists in food and marketing.

“Our criteria are around things like height, creativity, stability, just different takes on building Cathy,” he said. “In addition to myself as a judge we have the marketing specialist from Sodexo [Hannah Dudash] and then the executive culinary director [Sean Minahan] because we should have someone who judges food daily on the judging panel.”

Though there may have been experts on the judging panel, the Pitt students were channeling their inner clueless college student stereotype, as most attendees had little experience in cooking or baking. Mikaela Moore, a sophomore biology major, said she didn’t have any prior experience with baking that would help her team in the competition, but that didn’t stop her from participating. The competition was driven by ingenuity, rather than experience in the kitchen. Moore said the strategy of her team — The Cathy Crafters — was to stack their Cathy up from the inside.

“We started with big Rice Krispie squares and then smaller brownie squares and Krispie squares, which we stacked for structure,” she said. “No one wants a hollow cake!”

Filling up these candy Cathys with an abundance of sweet treats was the name of the game for most contestants, but the team that won the prize for structure and integrity proved Moore’s anti-hollow cake theory wrong.

The Brainy Bunch included sophomores Rebekah Colacot, Cecilia Newhart, Renee Cantor and Obisie-Orlu. The four made their Cathy without the standard stacking method. Cantor, a English literature and writing major, said they accomplished it by placing a long piece of Rice Krispies in the center and stabilizing with brownies.

“Well it’s very structurally sound. This [long piece of Rice Krispies] may actually look like it’s sitting on top of the bottom layer [of brownies] but it’s actually inside of it, standing on its own. There’s brownie shoved in between the sides to keep it stable,” said Cantor.

And not only was their creation hard to shake, but the outside was intricately decorated, featuring a cameo from Cathy’s famous peregrine falcons that nest on her upper floors made out of mini oreos. The goal, after all, was to make the best Cathy they could, and the key to their success, according to Colacot, a neuroscience major, was accuracy. Colacot said that by adding the signature panther head fountain at the front made out of brownie and blue sprinkles and other details like as landscaping gave their entry a sense of tangibility.

“We really just wanted to make it look like Cathy so like adding the flowers and the fountain, which we filled with blue sprinkles to be the water, and then adding brownie that could curve around it. We added flowers with the gumdrops, just to add some color,” she said.

It was a lively event, and the ballroom was rife with giggling and smiling Pitt students who were happy to get their hands a bit sticky for some free candy and stress relief after the start of classes. Vincent-Bryan said the event was created to facilitate community and competition between students, and that the creations would not be wasted after the fact because students would be welcome to eat them. The main tower, constructed by Russell, a pastry chef, may even soon appear in one of Pitt’s dining halls.

“We’re gonna move the tower to wherever the culinary staff thinks makes the most sense, it might be on display at Market, you might see it at The Perch. I think that’s a little secret but they wanna share it with the community from tonight. So you’ll see it somewhere popped up around campus,” he said.

Students trickled out of the ballroom at around 7 p.m. with hands full of hot chocolate from the event. Cantor said her victorious group would be more than willing to compete again.

“We would come back here, 10 out of 10. The Brainy Bunch is coming back,” she said.

 

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