COOK-OFF AMERICA presenting prize-winning recipes from the Public Television Series and produced by Marjorie Poore Productions is just right for those of us who are partial to bake-off, cook-off, festival and fair recipe contests (and the cookbooks they generate).
And wait til you see all of the cook-offs represented in COOK-OFF AMERICA! This is almost as good as going there!
Starting with the Georgia apple Festival and ending with the Vidalia Onion Festival…sandwiched in between are twenty one other cook-offs, including the Catfish Institute’s On-Line Consumer Recipe contest. Newman’s Own/Good Housekeeping Recipe Contest, Best in the West Nugget Rib Cook-Off, Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival—and the well-known Gilroy Garlic Festival.
Marjorie Poore explains in the introduction that Cook-Off America may never have happened if it weren’t for her friend, Jim Heywood. By day, Jim is a mild-mannered instructor at the prestigious and pristine Culinary Institute of America. Come the weekend, Jim sheds his white chef’s coat, slips into blue jeans, replaces his chef toque with a cowboy hat and is ready to assume his second identity as a ‘chili head’”. It was Jim, she says, who encouraged her investigate the chili competitions. Included in the book is the International Chili Society World’s Championship Chili Cook-Off and Salsa Contest.
(It’s a peculiar American phenomenon that everybody thinks their chili is the best. We’ve had an ongoing battle over this issue in my own family for decades of course, mine is really the best but try telling that to my siblings!).
Ms. Poore says that it took them over a year to cover all the various events for their first season of Cook-Off America; their first stop was Reno, Nevada, for the International Chili Society’s World Champion ship Chili cook-Off. She says she had heard of chili fanatics but it wasn’t until the end of their two day stay with thousands of chili-heads that she really began to understand the passion that chili can generate.
In Florida, where they traveled for Mama Mary’s gourmet Pizza Crusts Pizza Creations, Ms. Poore had her first encounter with “contesters”: – people who enter contests as a hobby. “I’ve known one of these contesters for many years…believe me, she does very well at this hobby!” says Poore. “Most of them are incredibly talented cooks who instinctively understand how ingredients come together. And while many of them are capable of writing cookbooks, most prefer to remain amateur regulars on the cook-off circuit”.
(I have been acquainted for decades with a woman who was a contester—she was a Pillsbury bake-off finalist several times, had re-outfitted her kitchen more than once with appliances won at recipe contests and passed the torch onto her husband, son and granddaughter when she felt she had done her bit as a contester. She often encouraged me to enter a recipe contest. I replied that my chief problem – as a home cook – is that I rarely make the same thing twice exactly the same and I never write down my changes. I admit, I’m chagrined when something I ‘created’ ends up as a finalist in a Cook-Off contest. My theory is that recipes, like inventions and new ideas – are swarming out there in the universe, just waiting to be tapped into).
The next stop for the PBS camera crew was in Boulder Colorado, for the National Pie Championship (sorry, I didn’t know about this when I was working on “Easy As Pie”. There were more than FOUR HUNDRED pies available for tasting at the National Pie Championship.
And so it went, throughout the year, as the PBS camera crew ventured forth to different parts of the USA, from sloshing through cranberry bogs and pumpkin fields to traveling down East to the north of Maine for a salmon festival, from a Jambalaya Festival in Louisiana to the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Northern California.
They ended their tour with “a step back in time at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, (which I wish I had known about when I was making frequent trips to Michigan). The Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum sounds a bit like the Hale Historical Village that I visited with my brother Bill, and his daughter, Laura, one summer in Cayahoga, Ohio.
The photographs throughout Cook Off America are inviting and mouth-watering. Food photography was done by Darla Furlani and the location photography by Alec Fatalevich.
COOK OFF AMERICA was newly published in 1999. It is available on Amazon.com for $3.44 new, or starting at one cent for pre-owned. It is available on Alibris.com for 99c for a pre-owned copy or $2.70 for a new copy.
–Review by Sandra Lee Smith