Two Utah contestants are among the 100 finalists competing for a $1 million grand prize at this year's Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.
On March 26, Cameron Bailey of Salt Lake City and Elizabeth DeHart of West Jordan will be in Orlando, Fla., cooking their original recipes for the judges and master of ceremonies Martha Stewart.
Bailey's recipe is Bacon-Chicken Sliders with Raspberry-Onion Spread; DeHart will cook her Falafel Sandwiches with Fire-Roasted Tomato Aioli.
This is the 45th Bake-Off, which was begun in 1949. It now takes place every other year. It remains the premier national home cooking contest, as other long-running cook-offs have been downsized or discontinued.
For being a small state population-wise, Utah has a good track record for Bake-Off finalists, with at least one — and sometimes three or four — finalists in every contests. But so far, nobody from Utah has won the grand prize. Could 2012 be the lucky year?
Cameron Bailey hopes to be the second male grand-prize winner (the first was Kurt Waite in 1996). But the Bake-Off isn't his only competition that weekend. He will get to Orlando a day early to run in a half-marathon.
"I wanted to come home with a medal, even if I don't win the million bucks," he said.
A project manager at 3-Form, a building materials company, Bailey said he began cooking at a young age.
"I was raised in a large Utah family with four siblings, all of us had to learn to cook because Mom and Dad were both busy," he said.
He's been entering the Bake-off since 2002.
"Those first recipes I entered were horrible," he said with a chuckle during a telephone interview. "But I've learned how to play the Bake-Off game."
He's now realized that sponsors are seeking recipes that best showcase their products, such as Pillsbury's "Poppin' Fresh" dough, Jif peanut butter, Smucker's jams, Hershey's chocolate and Muir Glen Organics vegetables.
"My first recipes used a bare minimum of the sponsor ingredients," he said.
"This time around, my recipe used seven sponsor ingredients. I used the greatest number of sponsor ingredients to raise my chances."
He also raised his chances by entering seven recipes. "They were very concise and all winners, I thought. I was surprised that my appetizer recipe was the one selected, though, because I love to show off with my desserts."
He came up with his recipe during a time period where he was "on a kick to find wonderful things to do with balsamic vinegar."
After hearing a discussion on the radio program "The Splendid Table," he was inspired to make a reduction sauce of chicken broth with raspberries, balsamic vinegar and a touch of honey, "And it was wonderful. So when the Bake-Off came along, I thought I could take Smucker's preserves and use it instead of the raspberries to get the right degree sweetness and savory. The balsamic spread sounds odd, but when it comes together, it's really wonderful."
He considers himself a home cook who makes "approachable" dishes using ingredients that he already has on hand.
So as far as food TV idols go, he enjoys watching Rachael Ray and Ann Burrell — "I think she's fun and sassy and stands up for herself in the way she cooks."
Martha Stewart has been a lifelong idol of Bailey's, "So I about died when I found out she was going to be the host. I have watched her shows for years and take her magazine. She's been a real inspiration to me."
Bailey was one of three contestants featured on Stewart's show Feb. 16 as part of Stewart's "Road to the Bake-Off" series leading up to the event.
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