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Panther Plates by Pitt Greats

Heather Lyke with two children in Pitt shirts bake in a kitchen together while a camera crew films
What blue-and-gold game-day snack does Panther mascot Roc prepare for Pitt tailgates?  

Who’s the best cook in Athletic Director Heather Lyke’s household? And what goes into Narduzzi pancakes?

“Panther Plates by Pitt Greats: A Collection of Championship Stories and Roc’n Recipes,” has the answers.

The Athletic Department collaborated with students in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and SciencesFilm & Media Studies Program and College of Business Administration to produce its first-ever cookbook and an accompanying series of video cooking tutorials.

The book will be on the shelves at The Pitt Shop and The University Store on Fifth on campus in December. Presale orders for delivery or in-store pickup may be made online through The Pitt Shop.

Giving back is at the heart of the project: Sales proceeds benefit the Student-Athlete Success Fund, with a portion of holiday season sales going to Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

From breakfasts and comfort food to pasta, chicken, seafood, Tex-Mex cuisine, snacks, side dishes and sweets, this book has deliciousness covered. It features dozens of recipes rich with family history and cultural diversity, shared by Pitt Panther team coaches, former student-athletes, athletics staff, University leaders and friends from JMI Sports, the marketing partner of the Athletic Department and Clearview Federal Credit Union, the official credit union of the Pitt Panthers and presenting sponsor of the cookbook.

A handful of the cookbook contributors shared their stories—and their kitchens—with student film crews who produced the videos.

Among them: Athletic Director Heather Lyke, who teamed up with daughters Sophie and Elle to whip up her mom’s recipe for pumpkin bread; Track and Field/Cross Country head coach Alonzo Webb, who shared his mother’s sweet potato pie recipe—and the tale of how he became the family’s go-to baker for family holiday gatherings; and Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement and Secretary of the Board of Trustees Kathy Humphrey, who shared the family-size cornbread dressing and candied sweet potatoes recipes that have been part of her Thanksgiving table since she was a child—then wrapped the goodies for the students to take home.  

The cookbook project, coordinated by Angie Williams, executive assistant to the director of athletics, was two years in the making. From the start, it was designed to be more than simply a collection of recipes, but also to strengthen Pitt connections and benefit students.

“Early on, we knew we wanted it to have a purpose,” Williams said of the plan to donate the cookbook proceeds. “It just seemed natural that it should benefit our student-athletes.”

Fittingly, two of the students involved in the project, Dontavius Butler and Eben Vorster, were themselves Pitt student-athletes: Butler as a football wide receiver and Vorster as a four-year captain of the swim team.

“We hope that the book reaches not only the University community, but all of our fans—in the area and across the country, to give them a little bit of the Pitt Panthers in their own home,” Williams said.

Sharing the stories of those who contributed recipes seemed a natural way to bring the book to life, she said.

Hands-on student involvement was a natural, too, said Kevin Smith, director of Undergraduate Studies in Broadcast and a senior lecturer in the Film & Media Studies Program.

We hope that the book reaches not only the University community, but all of our fans—in the area and across the country, to give them a little bit of the Pitt Panthers in their own home.

Angie Williams, executive assistant to the director of athletics

Students in the program have worked closely with Pitt Athletics since the 2018 launch of the Pitt Studios broadcast facility. The “Panther Plates” project served as yet one more relationship-building opportunity.

A team of 16 students divided into groups of four—with each taking a specific role: producer, editor, camera or audio operator—to create the videos.

By design, Smith left the teams to hold their own production planning meetings, and to plan and execute the content on their own.

“It’s the students’ responsibility to be professional on the shoots,” he said. “To learn the techniques and skills in a class setting is obviously imperative. However, there’s still the application of those skills. Just as important is how you conduct and carry yourself professionally. They have to work as a professional unit, and that’s what made me most proud,” he said. “I knew they’d be great.”

Vorster, who directed video editing and production for the project, recognized the level of trust that was placed in the students’ hands. “I’m grateful that Pitt Athletics gave us the opportunity,” he said.  

“It was a very smooth and fun experience, to do this with people who want to do it and want to flourish in the industry,” he said. “Everyone coming into this project knew what they were doing. And we always learn from each other and help each other.”

Vorster will graduate in December with a degree in film and media production, but other teammates remain to pass along that shared knowledge and mentor others. “They’re going to be the next students who carry on the legacy when future projects come up.”

In addition to the film students’ involvement, Jack Conville, a senior in the College of Business Administration who has interned behind the scenes at Pitt Studios since his sophomore year, joined the project’s business and marketing team.

While the other students have the technical skills in lighting, video and editing, “I have the business acumen,” Conville said, adding that his role included developing media releases and advertising strategies for the project.

For Conville, the project has become a memorable highlight in an academic year made gloomy by COVID-19. “This is a project that highlights what this University is about,” he said. “The enthusiasm and passion are through the roof.”

Conville had never worked with Smith prior to the cookbook project but knew him through his work as an operations intern and production assistant at Pitt Studios. Now, Conville, who is majoring in finance, and pursuing certificates in sports management and in leadership and ethics, has been inspired to take Smith’s introductory broadcasting course in spring.

Conville values the skills he’s learned and the connections he’s made in his time at Pitt Studios. “It’s great that Pitt has opportunities like this for students,” said Conville, who hopes to one day work in a business capacity with a sports team or a related company. “It really highlights Pitt’s dedication to helping students get that real-world exposure.”

Smith views the partnerships with athletics as “a great symbiotic relationship” that has benefited Pitt students.

“They’ve really embraced our students and the academic opportunities. They’re truly giving the students an opportunity to excel with a professional outcome,” he said.

“Everything we do in the classroom has to translate to the real world, or what’s the point?” said Smith.

“It’s been really amazing to see what the students are capable of. They are ready for the real world with this type of work.”