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Naples high school students Melissa Matthews, left, and Jason Parsha compete in an Italian culinary cook-off. Four Naples students competed against eight teams of Italian students in the cook-off.

Naples high school students Melissa Matthews, left, and Jason Parsha compete in an Italian culinary cook-off. Four Naples students competed against eight teams of Italian students in the cook-off. (Photo courtesy of DODDS)

NAPLES, Italy — Four American high school students competed last week against eight teams of cooking students — all Italians — in a culinary showdown.

In doing so, they competed against natives in the land known for its great cooks.

Intimidating, yes — and the students didn’t win — but what an experience, said Jason Parsha, 16, the lone male in the four-student team that included team leader Ashley Schifferer, Rachel Fitzpatrick and Melissa Matthews.

All four attend Naples High School at the support site in Gricignano.

“It was really fun to start with, and everything was so completely different for us,” Jason said of Friday’s cook-off at the culinary Professional Institute in Teano, about 30 minutes north of Naples.

They had never prepared meals in a commercial kitchen, he said, and were “blown away” by the experience.

Competitors had to prepare dishes using four ingredients popular in, and which hail from, the Campagna region of Italy: mozzarella di bufala (mozzarella made from buffalo’s milk), a special type of pork, porcini mushrooms and chestnuts.

Using as many of the four ingredients as possible and still producing a tasty treat, they prepared an original appetizer of mini mushroom cheesecakes in a chestnut crust topped with balsamic vinegar, their culinary arts teacher, Marcia Webster, said.

Since the competition was held on Cinco de Mayo, the first-year culinary students prepared their entrée with a Mexican twist. On May 5, Mexicans celebrate the Mexican militia’s victory over the French army at The Battle Of Puebla in 1862.

The students served up pork stir-fry with bell peppers and onions over a bed of rice accompanied by a black-bean-and-corn dish served in a tortilla basket with tomato relish.

They had to prepare one plate for each of the seven Italian judges and a separate and larger dish for presentation, said Jason Parsha, who aspires to open a restaurant with his father on the southern coast of Spain.

The Naples students didn’t win, but were awarded a special certificate for their participation.

“This was such a great experience for them,” Webster said.

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