Wit and Wisdom from a Recipe Contest Vet

If you’re a novice cooking contest hobbyist, you may be able to learn a thing or two from Ronna Farley. As a previous winner, and frequent qualifier, of both recipe entry and cookoff-style contests, Ronna has no doubt earned her place in the figurative Cooking Contest Hall of Fame. With another Pillsbury Bakeoff fresh in the can until 2010 (the contest was on April 15 and is held every two years), what better time to speak with a two-time past finalist of this American institution?

It should be noted that Ronna’s competitive accomplishments aren’t limited to the Bake-off (referred to as “PBO” on the contest circuit). She’s participated in numerous challenges over the course of three decades, ranging from the very minor to the very renowned. Check out my recent Q&A with Ronna:

TM: Ronna, how long have you been entering recipe contests? Can you give us a brief history?

RF: I started entering the Pillsbury Bake Off as a young bride around 1973. I don’t remember what my first entry was, since it is so long ago. It probably wasn’t very good anyway! Then, I (was chosen as a finalist for) Bake Off #26 in San Francisco in 1975, with the recipe “Ham and Cheese Crescent Snacks.” After that, I toyed around with entering over the years, but nothing happened.

TM: We know that you enjoyed additional success with PBO later on, but did anything happen in the meantime?

RF: Around 1976, I was in a local contest – a Chun King Wok Cook Off, with my Oriental meatball recipe. They showed some of it on local TV. For awhile, that was pretty much it for cook offs. I have won some smaller prizes like wine glasses, salad bowls, and cook books.

TM: And then…

RF: In the summer of 1999, I was asked to participate in Pillsbury Hall of Fame Contest to celebrate 50 years of the Bake Off. My Ham and Cheese Crescent Snacks was voted 1st out of 3 recipes in the category, so I got to go to the Bake Off in San Francisco in 2000, and I could bring a guest. I brought my mom, since she always had an interest in the Bake Off, and we had a great time!

TM: Your most notable accomplishment is your third Bake Off experience. Tell us about that.

RF: I found out I would be in the 43rd Bake Off in 2006, and I won the Snack category with my Choco-Peanut Butter Cups. The prize was $10,000 and a GE Trivection oven.

TM: Since you were unable to enter (due to winner limitations) this past contest, what have you been up to for the past two years?

RF: I participated in the Crisco Country Cook Off in June 2007. It was a one-week trip for two to the Country Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, including all concerts. My husband and I loved it, and I placed second in the appetizer category. I also participated in the National Oyster Cook Off in St. Mary’s County, Maryland in October 2007. There were 4 categories and I placed 3rd, winning $150. I hope to be included in that once again this year, since it was only 1 1/2 hours from my house.

TM: Finally, what tips do you have for novice contestants?

RF: Well, how many recipes I enter depends on how busy I am, but if I get inspired, I’ll enter as many as a dozen! I think I’m better at creating dessert recipes than main dish recipes, so (what you choose to enter) should depend on that, and also on what kind of recipes they are looking for.

I find it discouraging when I don’t win in a contest, but, I just shrug it off, and start to work on another contest. There are so many that I think we all “hit” with something eventually. I suggest not giving up, and just keep trying!


1 Comment»

  Karen Bergh wrote @

Hi! I’m just curious about this as a hobby. How much time is devoted to such endeavors? How does this fit in with other hobbies or extracurriculars? Are there local friends in the circle of cook-off hobbyists, who join in the fun?

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