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Back in the pressroom, most of the reporters treated the contest as a quirky, funny story. To some degree they had to. The journalists were on deadline and so had to surface-feed.

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While the reporters tapped out their stories, I had my own eureka moment. Thanks to the food revolution of the past twenty-five years, food has finally started to matter to Americans, or at least much more so than a generation ago. On the other hand, these contests, with their emphasis on speedy recipes and processed foods, reinforce the most slovenly American food habits, the ones that foodies abhor. Cookoffs lie at the intersection of two counter forces: the push for a respectable American cuisine and the devotion to the casserole aesthetic.

0670032514 - Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America by Amy Sutherland

At a pivotal point in the food revolution, cookoffs and their longevity are a gauge of just how far American home cooking has come and how far it has to go. Early indications are that the battle against Crock-Pots and cream of mushroom soup is far from won. In addition these contests say much about Americans in general—our intense love of speed, ingenuity, competition, and fun. As for my original question—Why are cooking contests still with us? They have zipped across the street to the convention center to inspect the cookoff floor and their foot by foot cooking station, complete with their state flag.

And now, bright and early on the morning of the cookoff, they—five men and forty-six women—stand in single file like beauty pageant contestants, their red sashes emblazoned with their home states draped across their chests, waiting to walk the red carpet into the opening ceremony. Some look embarrassed, almost sheepish. They clasp their hands before them or grip purses like security blankets.

Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America – Amy Sutherland | Gastronomy

The contestant from Alaska seems to sleepwalk. Others soak up the attention, flash big cheerleader smiles, and take long, easy steps. There are at least fifteen contestants, nearly a third of the entire group, who are cookoff veterans. Two have each been competing on the cooking contest circuit since the s. Sparrow, unfazed, smiling, shoulders back, marches in the room like she owns it.

She is back for her second National Chicken in a row.

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She has lugged a cupboard of equipment with her, including a ceramic pitcher that she had custom-made in Minnesota for serving her Sticky Sauce of Dijon Mustard and Maple Syrup. Her husband still fumes over all the driving to get the pitcher. It took two three-hour round trips to Red Wing, Minnesota. She has also packed an outfit—navy pants and a yellow blazer, both linen—that matches her dish. She is not known as the queen of presentation for nothing. Add to that, chicken is her forte, and she has practiced making her dish as she never has before.

His Montana ribbon drapes over his offensive lineman-like girth, cinching at his waist. He dwarfs just about everybody, except for a giant white chicken in a polka-dot dress who watches the proceedings, beak agape, from a dark corner of the room. If he was to win, he would be the first man to do so since Pat Harmon steps into the room, her penciled arched eyebrows giving her a slightly manic look. She strides down the red carpet nonchalantly. She embraces it, which is near heresy in the contester world. Chicken thighs braised in tea and apricot nectar got her here. She is not intimidated, as usual.

National Chicken was her first ever contest back when she was a kitchen- challenged newlywed. Her dish, chicken doused with canned cherries, looked like a leftover from a traffic accident. Since then she has honed her chops at about every cookoff you can think of and regularly scores in recipe contests, as does her husband, Larry. And she did it over a fire in the desert using a cast iron pot.

They just keep coming. In two short years of contesting, Claudia Shepardson of New York, who includes her grandson on her list of hobbies, has come on strong on the circuit, picking up grand prizes right and left. Liz Barclay, an assistant principal in Annapolis, Maryland, zips into the room like a filly eager for the starting gate. She regularly makes it to cookoffs and places in recipe contests, but the big cash prizes have eluded her. She hopes this cookoff will be different.


To them their presence here is just a lucky break, a divine blessing that landed them an all-expenses-paid trip for two to California on this early spring weekend. The contesters know differently. Like gamblers, they are well acquainted with the fickleness of Lady Luck. But also like gamblers, they know the game and have played it for all they are worth. In short, they have earned the right to be here. They thoroughly researched past winners, boned up on current chicken trends, foisted innumerable poultry creations on their family and friends, and kept notebooks on their nightstands to scribble drumstick brainstorms in the middle of the night.

Having made the cut for the cookoff, they practiced making their recipes, carefully thought out their presentation, scoped out the competition, and planned what time they would send their dishes to the judges. This is National Chicken, after all. V There is no clear-cut annual season to national cooking contests, but there is a recognizable cycle, a kind of Triple Crown, dictated by the three biggest cookoffs, all biennials.

It begins in the spring every other year with National Chicken. Once the hysteria of that contest recedes, contesters turn their attention again to poultry and National Chicken. The cycle begins anew. And new cookoffs pop up here and there.

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However, National Chicken got its start as a regional event, and Pillsbury has always been a national one. Delmarva is the squished-up name for the squat peninsula that Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland share between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The year was , when chicken was sold as a whole bird that home cooks dismembered in their own kitchen.

That first year the contest was open to all comers. Some local cooks showed up, toting their own frying pans and wrinkled, stained family recipes scribbled on the backs of envelopes. The judging went late into the night. Out of a field of mostly fried chicken the judges made a bold choice: a broiled bird. Broiled Chicken Deluxe, submitted by Mrs. Keith of Salisbury, a dark-haired woman in a floral apron, called for squeezing lemon juice over a two-and-a-half-pound broiler, dusting it with a mix of salt, paprika, and pepper, smearing it with melted butter, and then finishing it with a sprinkle of sugar.

By the s the Delmarva Chicken Cook-off had evolved into a national contest, with a contestant picked from each state and the District of Columbia. Entries were more and more expected to be original. The competition left the Delmarva strip and became a roving event, moving from one poultry-producing state to the next with each contest. It remains the biggest promotion put on by what is now called the National Chicken Council, a national trade and marketing association in Washington, D. It also remains the only national cookoff where contestants represent their home states.

Although the National Beef Cook-Off offers a bigger grand prize, National Chicken has long been the big favorite of the contesters for two reasons. First, they love it for the deluxe treatment, which they consider only second to the attentions Pillsbury lavishes on its chosen. Each contestant wins a three-night, all-expenses-paid trip for two wherever the cookoff is held. Second, National Chicken gives contesters the freedom to flex their gourmet muscles. While most cookoffs require the use of processed foods, all this cookoff calls for is chicken, plain and simple.

In fact, recipes that rely heavily on processed foods rarely make it to the finals anymore. The Beef Cook-Off calls only for beef as well but limits the number of ingredients to six, including the meat, and literally holds cooking time to thirty minutes. These restrictions necessitate processed food. At Chicken there is no limit on ingredients. As for time, contestants must cook their dish twice in three hours, which may rule out wrapping up a galantine, but otherwise it is a leisurely, liberating pace.

https://depsickrincea.cf Simplicity does count in the judging, but in equal shares to appeal, appearance, and taste. Consequently, at National Chicken most contestants actually cook rather than just heat. You find exotica such as peanut oil, coconut milk, fresh basil, shiitake mushrooms, Chinese five-spice powder, and even the hallmark of fine cooking, shallots. That said, there is one recipe in the contest from North Dakota that calls for two cups of finely crushed pretzels and uses lemon Jell-O in the glaze.

V When the rules for the contest were issued, the contesters were understandably alarmed at what might seem like an incidental change to an outsider. For the first time cooked chicken, as in rotisserie chicken, could be used. To the contesters this signaled a seismic shift. They feared National Chicken would now go the way of National Beef, that ease of preparation would edge out taste.

Rotisserie chickens today, frozen chicken fingers tomorrow. Bob Gadsby was not bothered by the introduction of cooked chicken. Rather, it inspired him. Since the U. Good fresh seafood of any kind was almost impossible to find, and crab cakes rarely showed up on Montana restaurant menus. However, Gadsby tinkered with them in his own kitchen, sometimes using canned crab. For chicken, Gadsby began turning crab cakes over in his mind during his primo creation time, his long drives to the small far-flung airports of Montana that he oversees.