For nearly eight months I had waited for this day to come, and now, here it was! After breakfast all one hundred finalists filed into a small room off of the main ballroom. We were carefully lined up in the order of our kitchen station location. We also emptied our pockets of any personal belongings. Nothing, and I mean, nothing personal was allowed onto the Bake Off floor. No tissues, no phone, no camera, no lip balm, no pictures of the kiddos…nothing! Hey, there’s a million dollars on the line here. I get it; they mean business, so much so that we were told that we would not be permitted to use the restroom without an escort.
In a few moments we would make the grand entrance onto the Bake Off floor. I soon realized that I would be one of the line leaders. In school, the job of line leader was a pretty coveted position, but me, oh my, I wasn’t looking forward to being upfront. What if I led the line the wrong way…with the cameras rolling. Once those doors flung open and we began to make our way in, all of those worries faded away. We were greeted with some really lively music courtesy of a very cool kitchen band. These guys were so much fun. Armed with nothing more than spoons, muffin tins, pots, pans, and buckets, they filled that ballroom with electricity! The Grand March, a Pillsbury Bake Off tradition, would wind us around the ballroom and deposit each of us at our workstation. Then with the words, “Ready. Set. Make”, everything started.
We would have three and half hours to create our recipe up to three times. It was my hope to send my recipe off to the judges as soon as possible. For some people there is a lot of strategy that goes into the decision of when to send your final dish off to judging. Some want to get in there right away before the judges’ pallets have been overwhelmed by so many dishes. Others want to get their dishes in towards the end of the official time hoping to keep their recipe memorable. I didn’t have a strategy; I just wanted to get my dish in so I could relax!
Although I didn’t have a judging strategy, I did go in with a cooking plan. I needed to cook my spinach in the microwave, an item that would be shared among the finalists. Since my work station was tucked away in the back of the room, at the end of the row, right next to the microwave, I decided that I would make a run for it. While my spinach was off cooking, I got myself acquainted with my station and all of its contents. I have to admit that my hands were shaking by this time and I was feeling a bit unnerved. I kept telling myself that I had made this recipe many, many times. I just needed to pretend that I was home. This was no easy task. Waiting on the outskirts of the Bake Off floor were members of the media who, in just a few minutes, would descend upon us. There were photographers, bloggers, and sponsors who were free to meander about, ask questions, take pictures, and sample our food.
I had laid out all of my ingredients and got to work. I had to roll out thirty six miniature meatballs and assemble my skewers. I had hoped to have had most of this completed before the media began to roam but did not. Someone from General Mills made their way over to me just as I was beginning my skewers. He asked if he could interview me. I looked at him and apologetically told him that this would not be the best time and asked if he could come back later. He was very understanding and made his way down the line. I had finished my first batch of skewers and promptly sent them off to the oven to bake. I wasn’t thrilled with the look of my first batch but hoped that once they were cooked, my skewers would be worthy of the judges’ table. I set the timer on the oven and waited.
I released a huge sigh and felt my nerves begin to calm. The gentleman from General Mills returned and interviewed me. He was so nice and friendly; he made me feel completely at ease. This was getting kind of exciting. While I waited for my recipe to finish cooking, I scanned the room. Although there was so much going on, there was also great calmness. Everyone was just doing their thing, rolling with the punches, doing what they love…cooking, just on a much larger stage.
I heard the timer for the oven go off. I grabbed my oven mitts and removed the baking trays from the oven. I set them on top of the stove. Then I think I audibly gasped. I couldn’t believe it! There were my skewers bathing in a pool of liquid. They were a soaking, sopping, wet mess. What in the world had happened? I mean, I could make this recipe in my sleep. I had made it so many times at home and never, I mean never, had a problem. I have to admit that I was completely stunned. I obviously was not going to turn this recipe into the judges. I set them off to the side for samples and tried to regroup. I had two more opportunities.
Before I began my next batch, I thought about what could have gone wrong. In my testing at home, I had used standard whole wheat sandwich bread, the type you would find in any bread aisle. This bread was from a bakery. The slices were thin and lacking in substance. Bread was an important piece of my recipe. It’s purpose was to absorb moisture. Next, the ground meat that I was given was packaged in a tube and was quite wet upon opening. I had never seen ground turkey packaged this way. There was little I could do to change things. We were not permitted to deviate from our original recipe one bit. I approached my runner and told him my trouble. He came back and informed me that I would be permitted to dab the meat with paper towels to try to remove some of the moisture. So, I set off to work on my second attempt.
People continued to stop by and ask questions. It seemed that every time I turned around there was a camera taking pictures. Pictures of me smiling. Pictures looking natural. Pictures peering into the oven. Pictures assembling skewers. Pictures rolling meatballs. Pictures sprinkling cheese. You get the picture. It got to the point that my poor kitchen neighbor, Sandy, was being pushed aside from her own workspace in order for people to get their shot. Sandy would later say that it felt like she was cooking next to Madonna. It was kind of crazy!
These little skewers had received a lot of pre-Bake Off hype. During the course of my eight month waiting period, I would occasionally do a search for my recipe to see where it had turned up. In the beginning the majority of the coverage came from local media sources. Stories like, “Hometown Woman To Compete for the Big Dough,” were the trend. Then I noticed that Pillsbury had used the recipe in some of their promotional releases. The recipe started popping up all over the country. It was popular on Pinterest and Facebook. But the thing that really took me back was when we saw mention of the recipe in an online newspaper out of Manilla…in the Philippines. The Philippines? Really? Now this was getting really strange. All of this attention really gave me some hope that this recipe may have a chance, that it could be a serious contender for the grand prize. All of the hype came down to this: what would I see when I opened the oven door for the second time?
What did I see? Another soggy mess. Really? You want to talk about the wind being knocked out of your sails. I knew at that moment there would be no contender here, no living up to the hype, no winning experience. I was deflated. I hadn’t come here to fail. I hadn’t flown across the country to experience a kitchen disaster. As I put it to my husband before I left, “I’m not going to make friends; I’m going to win.” See, now removed from the situation, I can see the ugliness of that statement. The emptiness of it. My eyes had truly been clouded by the lure of big money. That amount of money is life changing, but life changing in a good way? Life changing in a way that would honor the Lord? Not likely with the attitude I was carrying around. Had those little skewers won, I was prepared to give all glory to the Lord publicly, but inwardly I think my heart would have been swelling with pride. In my heart there wasn’t a whole lot of humility going on. The Lord’s not going to compete with pride. When you have pride in your heart, there is simply no room for Him to reside. He’ll knock you down. And down I came!
I contemplated trying my recipe for a third time, but my time was tight. I wasn’t sure that I would make the final deadline. I knew I wanted to turn something into the judges. I dabbed some of the moisture off and sent the skewers off to the judges. At that point, I cleaned up my kitchen and wandered around the Bake Off floor trying a few samples from the other contestants. Lemon Pistachio Blackberry Thumbprint Cookies were so, so good. I loved the Ham and Cheddar Scones with Rosemary Cherry Sauce as well. There were so many good recipes and talented cooks! There were so many smiles, such fun in the air, it was infectious. My frown was turned around.
I met up with my friend and we decided that we would take the few hours of free time I had, to walk around Vegas. What an experience that was! Vegas was a land of extremes and contrasts. There was the opulent Bellagio with its lobby of Chihuly glass and stunning fountain show. Then there were the streets full of what appeared to be immigrant women clad with t-shirts and flyers advertising the area’s adult attractions. There were no smiles on their faces . No sense of joy there, just the look of women who were being used and who knows what else. There was the over-the-top pool at Ceasar’s Palace adorned with towering pillars and golden statues. Then there was the beggar on the street, the disabled vet, looking for a little bit to help them get by. There were the indoor canals complete with gondola rides at The Venetian. Lovely inside, whisking you away to another place, a ceiling that changed with the sky, dotted with glittering stars and the hues of dusk. Outside, the streets were littered..literally, with such trash. A scan of the area revealed that there was no beauty here. I continually thought about my kids and thanked the Lord above that he closed the doors for them to come. Those few hours walking around Vegas left me with such a profound feeling of sadness. This is what the world deems fun, an escape? They must be running away from a lot of pain if this is what it takes to escape. There is so much more joy to be found, but it’s only going to be found in Christ. Anyone want a mission field? Head to Vegas!
With the sites of Vegas behind us, my friend and I got ready for the evening’s awards dinner. Celebrities walk the red carpet. Finalists at the Bake Off walk the blue carpet.
We were seated in this lovely ballroom with our range neighbors from the contest floor. It was so much fun to chat with each other, getting to know about the people behind the recipes. Contrary to my earlier thoughts about not making friends, I did indeed meet up with some lovely people, some of whom I stay in contact with today. The Bake Off is truly about so much more than the money, it’s not all about the dough; it’s about the people.
Various sponsor awards were handed out throughout the evening. Then finally the time everyone had waited for arrived. The grand prize contenders were announced. I have to admit that I was still holding out just a small glimmer of hope that somehow, someway, my recipe would be called. It wasn’t, and yes, there was a sense of disappointment, but once the grand prize winner was announced, and the confetti began to fly, those feelings washed away. Glori Spriggs stood on stage stunned. She was the winner. Congratulations. I had had the opportunity to have lunch with Glori, her daughter, and best friend. She was a lovely woman, and I am genuinely happy for her!
So, early the next morning I walked through the slot machine lined Vegas airport to start my journey back home. Home. I couldn’t wait to get there. That’s my place. It’s the little slice of the world that the Lord has placed me in. The Lord has taught me many lessons through my Bake Off experience. I hope to head off to this year’s Bake Off with a far different mindset than I had last year.
Nashville. November. New journey on the way!