Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My First Cooking Competition

I grew up on a farm. I lived with my mom, her parents, my older sister, and my younger brother. My Grandfather is a hard-working man, and has always been the fatherly figure in my life. When I came home from school, and I didn't have any homework, I would help my Grandfather in whatever way I could. Splitting fire wood, bailing hay, building things, taking other things apart, and cutting grass were some of the chores I had. It wasn't just me, it was the whole family. We had to work together to survive. We did. And we still do.

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Growing up, my mother was a terrible cook. Good thing my family had my Grandmother, because she is a terrific cook! I'm not quite sure how old I was, but I remember telling my Grandfather that I could not help him because I was helping my Grandmother in the kitchen. And he was OK with that. So, I started spending more time in the kitchen, learning from and helping my Grandmother.

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When I was 14 years old I signed up for a 4-H cooking project. This project entailed about three months of preparation, before the actual competition. During this time I practiced making apple pies and serving the pie to my family. They gave me good feedback; sharing with me what they liked and didn't like about the pie and my service. After making and serving three pies to the family, I finally had the skills and knowledge to make the perfect apple pie for my first cooking competition.

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On the day of the competition, I woke up early and started making my pie. When the pie was finished baking, my mom drove me to the competition. When we arrived, the director informed me when I would need to present my project to the judge and which table I would be using. I waited anxiously until it was my turn, and then I began to set up my table. I laid down a red and white checkered table cloth. I laid out the plate, a cloth napkin, silverware, and two glasses (one filled with apple juice and the other was filled with milk). All of these items had an apple design on them somewhere. Once the table was set, I went back to the waiting area to get my pie. It was in a ceramic pie dish with a lid, and there were apple designs around the rim. The judge came over and took a seat at my table. I introduced myself and answered some questions that she had. She told me that everything on the table was beautifully placed, and she liked the apple theme I incorporated into every piece.
When I took the lid off of the pie dish, everyone in the room gasped; no one in the room had ever seen a more beautiful, perfectly cooked apple pie. The golden brown crisscrossed crust was absolutely perfect, and it complimented the table cloth nicely. Everyone could see the apple/cinnamon mixture through the openings in the crust. And they could smell it, too! The judge was in awe from both the sight and smell of my pie, but the real test was how well she liked the taste. I cut a nice sized piece of pie, plated it, and served it to her. I slowly backed away from the table and, again, anxiously awaited her judgement. She loved it! At the award ceremony, I was awarded the 1st place blue ribbon. And with that came a chance to compete at the State Fair cooking competition. I was on cloud nine!
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A few days later I had to make a decision, one of critical importance. I had to choose to cook at the State Fair or stay home and play high school freshman football. I stayed home because I thought I would get made fun of by my teammates if I had to tell them (and the coach) I missed the game because I was baking at a fair. Football is a team sport, and when I looked at it as a choice between my teammates and myself, it was a no-brainer for me. At this time in my life, one of the quotes that made the most sense to me was, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” So, I chose to sacrifice my individual desire of winning a blue ribbon in cooking at the State Fair, for the needs of my teammates. They needed me to kick some ass on the football field. And I did.
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Who knows how I would have done at the State Fair; it’s anyone’s guess. But I’ve felt proud of myself, over the years, for winning the chance to compete at the state level.


  1. Paul, I really love how you incorporated the pictures of the process of making an apple pie into your post; that's really creative and adds a kind of stop-motion film quality to your story. I really enjoyed your story as well; you included a lot of vivid descriptions that helped bring your story to life. I came away from your post wishing that I could see the pie you made. I would have liked a bit more closure at the end; perhaps some details about how this experience and your decision to put football before cooking has impacted your life and/or decision to go to culinary school would have provided that for me.

    1. Mrs. Sasser, thank you for sharing your comments! Although I don't have any pictures of the award-winning pie, my next formal blog post will be about how to bake an apple pie. And I will make it exactly the same way as I made the pie for the competition. As for not having enough closure at the end, I agree with you; I should have addressed both of the suggestions you made.

  2. Your story was so vivid! I kind of felt like I was there at the competition with you. I honestly don't like pie, or desserts for that matter, but the way you described your award-winning pie made my mouth water for a slice as I was reading about it lol. But you showed that you were a great team player. I wish you would have followed your heart and went to the state Fair competition instead of playing football, but, I'm happy that you are pursuing your dream now. :)

    1. Jade', thank you very much! Your comment just made my day!

  3. This was the best blog I've read today. I love how discriptive you were, and how you had so many pictures detailing the process. Great job.