As home cooking continues to rise in popularity, French's hosted its first-ever national Live Cook-Off event Thursday morning, in honor of "Celebrating Cooks Who Bring Smiles to Their Families." Judges whittled down some 3,000 recipe submissions to five finalists, who were flown to New York to compete for a $25,000 grand prize.
Says French's Director of Marketing, Barbara Yaros, "Our goal was to get a great recipe that was broadly appealing and easy."
First introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, French's President Elliott Penner insists the brand continues to evolve, striving to stay "relevant" with customers. French's asked consumers how they used its products, in hopes of offering great new recipes, with a "newer profile to apply to whole new generation."
Stemming from consumer demand for recipes, French's devised a strict set of rules for contestants: The recipes were restricted to eight ingredients or less, using at least one French's product, and were to require no more than one hour for preparation. The winners were judged on taste, appearance, creativity and family appeal.
More on the competing dishes -- and the winner -- after the jump.
Five home chef finalists diced, sauteed, glazed and even made up new words for their cooking processes -- Floridian contestant Carolyn Beal colorfully uses the term "scrintch" in reference to her technique of crumbling fried onions when preparing her Party Pinwheels recipe.
Though Beal works for a crime-scene cleanup company by day, she enjoys cooking and entertaining at night. "We have a lot of sports in the Tampa Bay area. We entertain a lot and we like sports, so I figured the pinwheels would be a good football recipe." The easy-to-prepare roll-up pastry is stuffed with roasted peppers and roast beef, and tangy from spicy mustard, sharp cheddar and cheddar-fried onions.
Contestant Heather Beedle from Curlew, Wash., devised BBQ turkey sandwiches for the competition, sweetened with apricot preserves and spiced with yellow mustard and Frank's Red Hot sauce. "It brings my boys in!," she boasted.
Between home-schooling her two children and teaching at Dixie State College by night, Erin Renoug Mylroie doesn't have any time to lose in the kitchen. "I have a small window of time to get food prepared for my family," she admits. But she prepared her Cheery-Cherry Chicken with Crispy Onion Grits in less than thirty minutes, with a sweet cherry glaze.
Mother of five, Mary Alice Lund of Circle Pines, Minn., traveled to New York City for the first time, showcasing her Spotlight Sausage Stuffed Peppers, which she created for her family of six last October.
But it was Suellen Calhoun of Des Moines, Iowa, who took home the grand prize for her Onion Polenta with Spiced Tomato Avocado Salad. The only vegetarian entry, the polenta triangles were pepped up with French's Cheddar Fried Onions and topped with a zesty, cilantro-studded guacamole. Calhoun plans to put her winnings toward her humanitarian work with the Malta refugee camp, which she plans to visit with her husband in July, and toward Food from the Homeland, to send food to Haiti.
The event was ultimately "all about pleasing families and making good meals," says Yaros. "People are always looking for new recipes, and we want to provide them."