A Syracuse woman won $25,000 Sunday night in the first episode of the Food Network's "Ultimate Recipe Showdown."
Amparo Alam took top honors for her Roasted Chicken with Fried Yucca Root, a dish from her native Peru. Diners across the country have a chance to taste-test it for themselves, since the winning recipe debuted Tuesday at more than 600 T.G.I. Friday's restaurants as Peruvian Herb-Roasted Chicken.
"What's great about this dish is that it just screams 'Friday's,"' said Scott Randolph, a senior director of culinary research and development for T.G.I. Friday's, in a press release issued Monday. It's flavored with lime, garlic and Peruvian herbs and spices.
Alam immigrated to the United States 17 years ago from Lima, Peru, and works in the Wal-Mart bakery in Clinton. She hopes to open her own restaurant someday.
This was Alam's first recipe contest. In an interview prior to the contest's air date, the 51-year-old mother of two said the experience was, "More than perfect. It was very exciting."
She said the chicken recipe was the last of several she submitted to the contest, just four minutes before the midnight deadline. "Tell me I'm not lucky!" she added.
The series features viewers from around the country who sent in their "ultimate recipe." In each episode, nine finalists prepare their dishes in front of a studio audience, with judges sampling the dishes and scoring them on creativity, appearance, ease of execution and taste. One $25,000 winner is chosen for each episode.
Three Utah women were chosen as finalists. Erin Renouf Mylroie of St. George will be seen competing in the Cakes category on the March 3 episode, and Elaine Jones of Salt Lake City will appear in the March 16 Pasta competition.
Coming up with a winning recipe is a combination of "good luck, a good recipe, and what it means for you when you're cooking it," Alam said. "So many people have a really good recipe, good taste, good flavor and a nice presentation, but it needs to be a signature from you. I really have a passion for cooking. It's something in my blood, it's my inspiration and imagination."
Alam competed in the chicken category against eight other finalists, including Michelle Anderson of Eagle, Idaho the $100,000 grand prize winner of the 2007 National Chicken Cooking Contest. When a score of 98 was given to the Chicken, Tasso & Andouille Gumbo recipe by Lauren Wyler of San Marcos, Calif., viewers might have thought Alam's chances were dashed. But the judge's envelope revealed her score of 99.
The judges praised the crispy skin and spicy flavor of the dish. Alam said it was was inspired by a version that her mother often made for her birthday when she was growing up.
Judges were Katherine Alford, director of the Food Network Test Kitchen; Kerry Simon, chef and partner at the restaurant SIMON LA; and Russ Parsons, food columnist for the Los Angeles Times.Although the show was filmed several months ago, contestants have kept mum about the results so as not to spoil viewers' suspense.