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Recipe Contests Can Be Fun and Profitable

Recipe Contest Winner Doris DuPree Recipe Contest Winner Doris DuPree
By Pamela Slover Percival

These days it seems there's a recipe contest for just about every category of food, using products from chili to chicken. And the pay-outs for these contests are no small enchiladas, ranging from free trips and kitchen appliances to a windfall $1 million awarded by the upcoming Pillsbury BAKE-OFF.

With all the money and prizes available, thousands of people enter food contests each year. Some have even turned entering into a lucrative hobby. To increase their chances of winning, they study food trends by reading food stories and cookbooks. The most successful entrants seem to really enjoy cooking, and experimenting with new ideas and dishes in the kitchen. For example, Doris DuPree of Richardson, Texas, is a retired legal secretary who is the daughter of a French chef. She now gives private cooking lessons in French, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. She got the idea for her entry in this year's National Chicken Cooking Contest from her father's family in France. The dish, called Chicken Afrique, "is sort of an old family French recipe," DuPree said. "My parents were visiting relatives in France and someone in my family cooked a meal like this, and my mother described it to me."

Chicken Afrique, which garnered DuPree a finalist berth to represent Texas in the contest, features a whole, cut-up chicken browned in olive oil, then baked with shallots, almonds and prunes, and seasoned with nutmeg. As the finalist representing Texas in the cooking contest, DuPree was put up in an elegant convention hotel, and wined and dined and entertained over the course of several days during the contest, held this year in Dallas. Finalists from other states were given free trips to Dallas for themselves and a guest. Although DuPree didn't win the $25,000 grand prize, she said she enjoyed the contest and could see "how entering contests like this can become addictive." This year's chicken contest winner, Marie Rizzio of Traverse City, Michigan, has made entering cooking contests into a well-paying hobby since she retired. In addition to the $25,000 prize she won for her Japanese Amazu Chicken recipe, she won $10,000 last December in a Quaker Oats contest for her Almond Streusel-Baked Pears.

Tricks of the Trade

For other people interested in entering food contests, Rizzio has this advice, "Don't give up and don't get discouraged. Just keep entering and trying. If you love food, just keep creating things, and start with the foods you enjoy most."

The second-place winner in the chicken contest, Roxanne Chan of California, took home $5000 for her efforts. She said she has entered thousands of recipe contests since she began the hobby 15 years ago. She has won prizes in about 450 contests, including 15 grand prizes and 36 first prizes. This veteran contest winner offers these suggestions to newcomer entrants: "Start in local contests where there aren't as many competitors and your chances of winning are greater. That allows you to get some experience and confidence. Also, know your products and read food magazines to keep up with current trends," Chan continued. "Of course, right now, the big thing is ease of preparation -- getting the dish to the table quickly. Healthy and low-fat dishes are also big trends."

Linda Morten of Katy, Texas, who won first prize in the 1999 Texas Beef Cook-Off for her Havanah Sandwich, reiterates that keeping up with current food trends is very important. To help with this, she subscribes to a cookbook club. Morten and her three daughters, ages 11 to 18, all love to enter contests so they can "cook for money." Together they've won lots of money and prizes. Linda and her 18-year-old daughter, Jennifer, both were finalists in the last Pillsbury Bake-Off.

"My daughter beat me and won $2000 and a bunch of kitchen utensils and things for her apartment when she moves away from home," Linda said with a laugh. Linda said her family's contest experiences have given her some insight into what it takes to win. "What really wins a contest is putting the food together where it looks as good as it tastes, with garnishes and things like that," she advised. "It also has to be quick and easy. You need to make the recipe look like it took four hours when it really only took 30 minutes."

She also suggests that people think about the foods they like to cook regularly and how they can make them better or more unique. For example, think about how you could improve a basic hamburger by adding ingredients to the meat. "I once mixed leftover Ranch dip in with my ground meat, then grilled the hamburgers outside and it was great. You just need to experiment."

Cooking Contests

Cooking Contest Official Advice

Organizers of three of the largest national cooking contests - The National Chicken Cooking Contest, the National Beef Cook-Off and the Pillsbury BAKE-OFF, all say their best advice to contestants is to really pay attention to the contest rules. "I would say the largest reason people get bumped out of the contest initially is they don't read the rules or follow the directions," explained Nancy Tringali, director of the National Chicken Cooking Contest. Tami Anderson, coordinator of the 1999 National Beef Cook-Off (which will award $40,000 to a grand prize winner), agrees. "Pay close attention to what the rules say and exactly what the contest wants."

Judging behind-the-scenes

In these big contests, contestants are usually asked to first mail in their recipes. Then all recipes are screened by an independent judging agency to make certain they comply with all contest rules. They also are screened to insure the recipes are original (never before published in a magazine, cookbook, etc.); are not too difficult to prepare or call for unusual equipment or hard-to-find ingredients. Recipes are also kitchen tested to insure they taste as good as they sound and that the recipes actually work.

For the BAKE-OFF, Pillsbury home economists eventually pare the thousands of entries down to a top 100 that meet the judging criteria for the BAKE-OFF finals. Those finalists are then invited to make an expense-paid trip to the competition (next scheduled for San Francisco in February, 2000) to personally prepare their recipes for the judges.

In the chicken contest, entrants are narrowed down to a finalist from each of the 51 states and Puerto Rico, and those finalists are invited to represent their state at the national contest. Contestants for the national beef contest first qualify in contests held at the state level, like the Texas Beef Cook-Off held March 19 in Austin.

To obtain an entry blank for the next Pillsbury BAKE-OFF, call 1-800-306-1111, or visit the contest web site at www.bakeoff.com. Entries must be postmarked by October 18, 1999, and received by October 22. Rules for the beef cook-off are available by sending a SASE to National Beef Cook-Off, 444 N. Michigan Ave., Dept. B, Chicago, IL, 60611, or via the Interne at www.beef.org. Entries for the next chicken contest must be received by October 15, 2000. For more information, send a SASE to National Chicken Cooking Contest, Box 28158 Central Station, Washington, D.C. 20038-8158, or visit the website at www.eatchicken.com.

Chicken Afrique

From Doris DuPree of Richardson, Texas; Texas finalist, 1999 National Chicken Cooking Contest
  • 1 cut-up chicken
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped shallots
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped blanched almonds
  • 12 pitted prunes
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. In large frying pan over medium high heat, place olive oil. Add chicken and cook about 5 minutes or until browned on all sides. Remove chicken to 2-1/2 quart baking dish. To frying pan, add shallots and saute about 10 minutes; add to chicken. Add almonds, prunes, nutmeg and water; cover with foil perforated with fork in several places. Bake in 350 degree oven about 1 hour, or until chicken is fork tender. Remove to serving platter and sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings.

The Havanah (Cuban-Style Roast Beef Sandwich)

First Prize recipe in the Prepared Beef category of the 1999 Texas Beef Cook-Off
  • 1-6 oz. jar marinated artichoke hearts, undrained and thinly sliced
  • 1-7 oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained and thinly cut into julienne strips
  • 2/3 cup sliced jalapeno-stuffed green olives
  • 4 individual French bread rolls (bullet shaped), 6 to 7 inches long
  • 1-1/4 lbs. thinly sliced deli roast beef
  • 8 oz. thinly sliced swiss cheese
Combine artichoke slices and marinade with red peppers and olives in bowl; set aside. Slice open the roll lengthwise. Arrange marinated vegetables, beef and cheese over bottom of each roll; cover with top of roll. Heat non-stick skillet over medium low heat. Add 2 sandwiches and cover with foil. Weight with a heavy skillet or bacon press. Cook until sandwiches are browned on the bottom, 3-7 minutes. Transfer to a platter and keep warm. Repeat with remaining sandwiches. Cut sandwiches in half and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Japanese Amazu (Sweet Vinegar) Chicken

Grand prize-winner, 1999 National Chicken Cooking Contest
Chicken Amazu
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 cup fresh bean sprouts
  • 1 small salad cucumber
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced radishes
  • 3 tablespoons sliced green onions (tops reserved for garnish)
  • Amazu Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Toasted sesame seeds
  • Finely chopped red pepper
In large bowl, mix together eggs and cornstarch. Dip chicken strips into mixture, coating well. In large nonstick frying pan, place oil over medium high heat. Add chicken (half at a time) and cook about 5 minutes or until browned. Drain on paper towels and keep warm. In large saucepan of boiling water, cook bean sprouts 3 minutes; drain. Using vegetable peeler, cut cucumber into thin strips. Toss together bean sprouts, cucumber, radishes and green onions; place on serving dish and arrange chicken on top. Drizzle with Amazu Sauce. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, red pepper and green onion tops. Makes 4 servings.

Amazu Sauce: In small bowl, mix together 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon sesame oil; blend well.

Beef Stromboli

From Becky Hopson of Livingston, Texas; First Prize in the Ground Beef category in the 1999 Texas Beef Cook-Off
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1 lb. ground round
  • 1 10-oz. can refrigerated pizza crust
  • 1 16-oz. jar spaghetti sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
In a large, non-stick skillet, lightly toast spices; add to ground round and lightly mix to evenly distribute. Put meat mixture in skillet and brown, stirring occasionally to break into pieces, until no longer pink. While meat is browning, unroll dough; place on waxed paper. Press dough into 12- x 8-inch rectangle. Spread 1/2 cup sauce to within 2 inches of long sides and 1/2 inch of short sides. Evenly distribute cooked beef on dough; top with cheese. Fold long sides of dough over filling; pinch to seal. Pinch short sides to seal. Transfer to large baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees in a pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Slice stromboli and serve with remaining spaghetti sauce. Makes 4 servings. Total preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
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