The gym was filled with the scents of cupcakes, cookies, pastries and other dishes, and everyone was vying to give out the most food, raise the most money and be voted the best of the best.
And it was all in the name of charity—and maybe a little bit of bragging rights.
As part of its Roots & Shoots program, held its annual Celebrity Chef event Thursday, where students, teachers and community members put together their favorite recipes to share with the school. Community members had the chance to sample all kinds of treats and leave monetary tips for the items they liked the best.
At the end, all of the money was put together to raise scholarship funds for secondary school and university students in East Africa.
“The mission of Students Raising Students is to raise awareness about the lives of children around the world, with a special emphasis on our Roots & Shoots partners in East Africa, [namely] Kenya and Tanzania,” said Katrina Macht, sixth grade teacher at Hillside and organizer for the Roots & Shoots program.
Currently, Macht said, the school is supporting one student in secondary school in Tanzania and one student in university in Kenya.
But the celebrity chefs themselves were the staff, students and parents, and they were excited to show off their cooking abilities.
Sixth grader Michelle Pine created miniature cherry pies with whipped cream on top, a recipe she took and modified from "Pampered Chef."
“They’re easy to make, bitesize and they don’t take a lot of time,” she said. “A lot of people have come for them so far.”
And fifth grader Mandy Petrillo was excited to share her grandmother’s recipe for meatballs.
“I think it’s really cool to have everyone eat my meatballs,” she said. “I’m really happy and excited that people like them.”
Petrillo’s mother, Susan, said the story of the dish is actually funny, since she is Irish and she married an Italian man.
“I say they’re the best meatballs made by an Irish woman,” she said with a laugh.
For the teachers themselves, there was some competition as several groups, namely one nicknamed “Team Bedazzle,” was out to defeat the four-time winners in the teacher category.
With their “Kiss the Cook” aprons, fifth grade teacher Kate Manara and sixth grade special education assistant Laura Grabler said they just wanted to defend their title.
“We are the ones to beat,” Manara said. “No one else did a gimmick to beat us before.”
Sporting chocolate bark—which they make every year—Manara and Grabler had topped them with all kinds of candies and nuts.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Manara said.
Amid swinging cow bells, ringing bells and the contented sighs of hundreds of people digging into good home-cooked food, tables were crowded with people trying a variety of items and sampling them more than once.
For sixth grader Emma Semper, she decided to bring cheesecake pudding cups, an easy dish she said she learned at Girl Scout camp and which requires no baking.
“I thought it would be easy to make, and other people would like it,” she said. “This is my first year doing this. I like cooking.”
The event even featured a little culture with sixth grader Allison Bonilla and her mother, Sugey, who brought in dishes with a Costa Rican flavor. One dish was rice with chicken, and the other was a fruit salad with a Costa Rican syrup mixed in.
Allison Bonilla said that even though there were so many cookies and cakes around the room, her fruit salad was going fast, with almost the entire bowl empty.
“Lots of people are coming,” she said, adding that this was the first time she had participated in the event. “I could cook now, so I did it.”
Macht said that at the end of the evening, people were judged on how much money they earned in tips, and winners were determined from each of four categories—student chefs, parent chefs, staff chefs and community chefs.
“They are responsible for making and sharing their favorite dish as tasting samples,” she said. “The events’ participants sample the prepared foods and tip their favorite chefs."
The winners in each category, Macht said each earned a gift certificate to Milano Grill, on Route 202/206.
“Last year we had more than 500 participants, and we hope to match or exceed that attendance this year,” she said.