I’ve won all of two cooking-related contests in my entire adult life. One was a pumpkin cook-off on the editorial floor of a newspaper I reported for — it earned me about 15 minutes of peer admiration. The other was the Rose City Chili Cook-off in the early 1990s. While the chili was good, I likely won the ‘People’s Choice Award’ because I told everyone that the recipe was from Rush Limbaugh’s mother — a shrewd move in a conservative community like Tyler, Texas.
But I have nothing on Alice Phillips.
Known by thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — as Ally (the Ally of Ally’s Kitchen), she’s a chef extraordinaire. When the kitchen gets hot and the pressure starts to build, she becomes a regular Joe Namath, taking home enough cook-off trophies to fill a handful of hutches. One of her more recent wins made her $25,000 richer and qualified her to compete in the World Food Championships.
Between her travels (there are many), cooking, writing and making people smile, Ally took a few minutes to show me the cooking contest ropes.
What inspired you to start entering contests?
Actually just a natural extension of my ‘contest junkie‘ love!
After appearing on Season 2 of the FOX network ‘reality’ (and, I say that with tongue in cheek!) show, I knew I had yet another venue for contests~~cooking! With my passion for cooking, which I’ve had since I was a kid, and now knowing that I’d been vetted from tens of thousands for this show, I figured I’d shift to yet another genre of contests~~recipe development and cooking! And, it’s been a two-year whirlwind of lots of entries, lots of losing, however, some dang big wins!
Do you concoct recipes just for contests? Or do you go into your personal archives?
It depends…on a lot of factors and circumstances. The big thing about contests is reading the rules/guidelines and following them to a tee! Probably a lot of talented folks are rejected b/c they didn’t follow the rules. I like the challenge of couture recipe development–just call me the Vera Wang of cooking! My personal archives are chocked full of great recipes, too, and if I’m in a crunch for time, I’ll start digging into these, looking at the recipes, the photos and figuring out ways to tweak them somewhat to make something new and fresh!
Have you had a favorite recipe that didn’t win?
Oh, wow, you bet I’ve had some kick arrrsssss recipes entered and didn’t win! I always have several taste-testers and food seekers who evaluate my dishes…it’s like a scientific process…in order to get to try my dish, you have to agree to feedback, ratings, and sometimes in writing! I’ve entered for two consecutive years burgers into the Sutter Home Build-a-Better Burger contest…nada, not one peep from Sutter Home. I entered sandwich cookie recipes into the Schaffren Berger contest…fabulous ideas (think tequila, Sumatra coffee, luscious fillings and more!)…nada, not a thing. And, the National Beef Contest…dang, my two recipe entries in that contest (two different categories w/strict rules) were truly fabulously tasty and gorgeous to feast your eyes on…nada, not a thing. But, the most disappointing was the Pillsbury Bake-Off…I created 6 unique and delicious recipes using only 7 ingredients and prepped in less than 30 minutes, and not one made it to the semi-finals…I really was stunned! Go figure. I still have a lot of those dang blue tubes in my refrigerator and am working on other recipes that I could use for either next year’s PBO or other contests! So, all’s not lost! This is the nature of being a risk-taker…you never know who’s on the other side of the equation and what tingles their taste buds!
One of your more recent attempts involved cornbread. Seems easy enough, but …
Oh, yes, the cornbread! That was a Martha White contest where you had to use one of their products and re-invent it into something unique and tasty! One thing about entering these contests sponsored, of course, by food products is that you have to use their product(s), so that means loading up on them as I experiment w/them in my kitchen. Truly at times I look like a mad scientist throwing together some wacky concoctions–wish I’d have Alton Brown by my side to banter with as I mix this and that–it’s not unusual for me to start quoting Shakespeare…’ Double double toil and trouble…’! I made so many versions of cornbread, one of which was peanut butter…yes, truly TERRIBLE! On another occasion I was working with cornbread trying to perfect a method for making it in less than 10 minutes, start to finish. Why? Well, I was working with another reality TV show casting, and that’s one of the dishes the producers wanted me to make…good ol’ cornbread, crispy, buttery, Southern…but, the caveat was only 10 minutes. My trash was full of trial runs!
If I’ve never entered a (national) cooking contest, but want to, what is your advice to me?
Without sounding pompous and braggadocio, my advice is follow my website shenanigans! I have many blogs on contests as I said earlier~~just put the word(s) ‘contest or contests’ in the search box, and you’ll have spine-tingling (tsk tsk) reading material for bedtime snoozing! Check winners from previous contest years, see what their recipes were, how they were written, the names of the recipes…you’ll pick up hints and ideas. Go to contest venues~~hey, the world of cooking competition is getting bigger and bigger every year, and soon it will rival the National Poker Competition! And, just look at the cooking ‘reality’ shows…they’re shifting from the ‘dump and stir’ genre (boring!) to competitions! Why do you think so many folks love ‘Chopped’? It’s the thrill of the win, the heat of the ticking clock, and the creative juices of the contestants! Finally, GO to some of these cooking competitions…the best, hands down, is the World Food Competitions~~it’s in Las Vegas this year~~you’ll see hundreds of rabid cooks, chefs and competitors in their respective categories vying for some of the $300k prize money…swing by the ‘Recipe’ category~~you’ll see me, and, yes, I’ve been working on those magical recipes for the past few months! Start humming the theme song from ‘Rocky’ because your world will be rocked as you immerse yourself in this ring!
Want to view the winning recipe for the 2013 Dole California Cook-off? It’s just a click away!
Thanks to the one and only Ally Phillips for giving me some really valuable time. If you aren’t a regular at Ally’s Kitchen, you’re missing out. If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. I’d also love for you to join me on Facebook (click the ‘like’ button), Pinterest and Google+. Want to see something or someone featured here? Drop me a line.