It's taken me five weeks to process my experiences at the 2018 World Food Championships, and figure out how to wrap the entire adventure into just one blog post. I'm going to try to accomplish that goal - so hold on tight, it was a wild and crazy ride.
Returning To Defend My Title:
Returning to WFC 2018 as the reigning Bacon World Champion came with a new kind of pressure that I've never felt in Food Sport before. I was ready to take on the challenge of defending my 2017 Bacon World Title with an eager, exhilarating attitude , but I was also filled with apprehension and a weird sense of dread. Winning the same category two years in a row has only been achieved twice in WFC history; twice by Suzanne Clark in the Pasta Category (which has since been retired), and twice by Liz Kratz in the Chili Category. The pressure to repeat a win is real, and going for a three-peat escalates the entire event to a whole new level.
Contest induced insomnia began the moment I opened my WFC test kitchen. Instead of counting sheep to sleep, I spent most nights visualizing possible recipe creations that I could test the following day. I made dozens of recipes over the course of three months, and finally landed on a few concepts that needed a lot of work to become Top Ten worthy dishes. The sleepless nights and the never-ending task of developing recipes displays a brutally honest truth: the process of determining what a ten thousand dollar bacon recipe is an arduous process and not for the faint of heart.
To stand any chance at another victory, I knew I had to have a seasoned food sport enthusiast on the At Home with Rebecka team. When I learned that my friend Lisa Keys had decided to take a year off from competing at World Food Championships, I jumped at the chance to ask her to be my sous chef, and thank God she agreed. I soon learned that Lisa and I had mind reading capabilities during the months that preceded WFC 2018. Together, we are a force to be reckoned with.
Who is Lisa Keys?
I met Lisa for the first time in 2015 at the First Annual - World Food Blogger Summit, held in Orlando, Florida. I was drawn to her sweet disposition and kind smile. We shared a seat on the bus to Sea World and talked like we'd known one another our entire lives. I learned that Lisa is an award winning food competitor, recipe creator, photographer, mother of two children (William and Caitlin), and wife to Bill Keys. She is also the owner and writer of Good Grief Cook. If you have not read her blog then I encourage you to take the time to get to know Lisa, and learn about her journey of loss, love, and her passion for cooking.
(You can access her works here: goodgriefcook.com Click HERE )
Lisa is also a Food Network CHOPPED CHAMPION (5/6/2014), a certified Food Champ, and a credentialed Steak Competition Association judge. Last but not least, Lisa is a grandmother, "Kiki," to her beautiful granddaughter Annabelle.
Lisa's resume is pretty darned impressive and her heart is made of gold. I love her like a sister, and feel a kindred connection like that of Anne Shirley's bosom friend and kindred spirit Diana Barry (Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery). Lisa is my forever faithful friend. Thank you so much Lisa Keys for your brilliant mind, attention to detail, and award winning skills in the kitchen. I am honored by your willingness to take on the task of sous chef, and even more honored to call you my friend.
Rounding out Team At Home with Rebecka, my third team member and my sweet husband, Blake Evans. I call him my "Super Schlepper" and "Financier" since he is the man with the muscles and the money.
Blake schlepped all of our suitcases up and down the stairs several times, drove us to do all the contest grocery shopping, hung out with all my foodie pals, and listened to all the crazy WFC talk. My husband had no issue socializing, as he chatted up the VIP's and connected with everyone we encountered.
Blake literally saved our bacon by running back to our condo twice during the Top Ten Round to get items we couldn't find while competing. I'm the luckiest girl in the world to have my sweet man by my side with his big booming laugh, love, and support. Thanks babe for being my faithful, loving husband, and supporting me in my food sport addiction.
The sous chef apron looks good on you by the way! xoxo
My goal for WFC 2018:
This year my goal was to win of course, but in the event that a repeat Bacon Category victory was not meant to be, my real hope was just to make Top Ten. Praise the Lord, after the preliminary round we made Top Ten finishing 4th in the category.
All WFC contestants are required to make a Structured Build recipe to "level the playing field" between professional chefs and home cooks. This year, Bacon Category contestants were required to make bacon pizza, utilizing a required sponsor ingredient: Red Gold Tomatoes. Competitors also presented a Signature Dish that showcases bacon as the star of the dish.
(To read the WFC Official Rules CLICK HERE)
After months of recipe creation and hundreds of changes, sleepless nights, a few tears, and the desire to throw my recipes across the room, I was extremely pleased with the final dishes. Lisa talked me off the ledge several times, and I returned the favor once or twice. I must reiterate, competitive Food Sport is an arduous process and not for the faint of heart. To fully grasp the enormity of recipe creation and contest preparation, a person must live the experience.
My Bacon Lobster Pizza is the most delicious pizza I've ever made or eaten! The smokey flavor of Kountry Boy's thick cut bacon is the perfect compliment to my Bacon Blush Alfredo Sauce. The sauce is made with a combination of bacon, Red Gold Tomatoes with Green Chili's, Red Gold Petite diced tomatoes, fresh garlic, and Fiesta Italian Seasoning. These ingredients are then blended with my signature Alfredo sauce to create a luscious Bacon Blush Alfredo that pairs perfectly with fresh lobster meat. The crust is from my sponsors, Center Court Pizza and Brew, located in my hometown of Pearland, Texas. The pizza was grilled on Bull Outdoor Products (Steer Premium Cart Grill), with fresh grated asiago and fontina cheese, garnished with a ring of fresh herbed bacon. Dressed to impress, the head and tail of the lobster greeted the judges, as well as eight beautifully cooked bacon legs. The pizza scored a 95.75.
Signature Dish - BLT (Bacon, Lemon, and Tomato) Cupcakes - Round One
I was determined to bake a cupcake for World Food Championships 2018, testing at least eleven versions before landing on the final recipe. You see, I've been on a baking journey the past few months not only to push myself outside my comfort zone, but to prove to myself and the world that I could create an award winning bacon cupcake.
In all honestly, this cupcake was a true labor of love and a little hate too. The recipe underwent numerous changes, and was scrapped from my WFC roster not once, but twice before its final version. Although my husband and sous chef were not fans at first, I think I won them both over in the end. The judges must have liked it too because it finished 7th in the world with a score of 91.2853.
I love everything about this cupcake. The cake is super moist with a hint of lemon zest and mashed Red Gold Tomatoes with green chili's; with the final touches of sugared bacon dust being folded in right before baking. Red Gold Tomatoes with Green Chili's also find their way into the bacon tomato jam that is spread over the cupcake after cooling. The sweet and spicy jam tastes like heaven, and is so good that I can hardly resist the temptation of eating it right from the spoon. I added Jelly Queens Red Pepper Sea Salt (Donna makes it just for me) for a slightly spicy finish, and topped it all off with delicious tomato infused butter cream frosting. It may sounds like a crazy concoction, but it is slap yo momma good!
BLT Cupcake-Official Description:
BLT Cupcake aka Bacon, lemon and tomato cupcake starts with a vanilla crumb cake laced with a hint of lemon zest and sugared bacon dust. The cake is topped with a savory-sweet tomato, bacon jam and then frosted with a swirl of vanilla and tomato butter cream, dressed with a bacon swizzle stick dipped in white chocolate and sparkling sugar.
The Progression of an Award Winning Cupcake:
As you can see, I take recipe creation very seriously! Scroll over the photos to see descriptions.
Choosing a Recipe for Top Ten:
So how do you choose a recipe to take to the Top Ten Challenge? Any decision I make could be the difference between a 10K win and last place. These are the two big questions that made my brain hurt the night I found out I would compete in Bacon Top Ten.
- Do I make my third recipe and hope for the best?
- Should I make my Structure Build or Signature Dish?
At first, my plan was to go into Top Ten with my pizza, but I wanted to see my scores for both dishes before deciding. I also had a third recipe waiting in the wings just in case I wanted to call an audible and be creative. Making a decision was hard, especially when considering the scores of my recipes. As you can see in the scores below, I went into Top Ten in 4th Place.
Both of my recipes scored well, with the pizza scoring slightly higher than the cupcake. This is where you can lose your mind second guessing the decision. For better or worse, I decided to make the cupcake and the rest is history. I didn't win first place with the cupcake, however I managed to place 7th in the world as one of only two home cooks that made Top Ten this year. Thank the Lord for my sweet friend and sous chef Lisa Keys, as she stood by my side while I went crazy over making the decision to compete with the cupcake. I couldn't have done it without her expert baking skills and world-class professionalism.
The stress of defending my Bacon World Title, and the decision to make my cupcake and not my pizza or third recipe really got to my psyche. Not to mention, everything that could go wrong in the Top Ten Round did. I burned every piece of bacon I cooked so had to re-make new batches, and with just 6 minutes to spare before the turn in window closed, we couldn't find the red dye for the tomato butter cream frosting. This is when my husband Blake saved our bacon by running back to the condo to find the red dye. Thankfully, I purchased two bottles and one was in the condo. The other had fallen under a mixing bowl by our station where it stayed until clean up.
A side note
Top Ten Bacon competitors were required to use Natural Tableware USA plates for presentation and Bacon Sponsors Indiana Kitchen Bacon. I think we did a pretty good job of showcasing the cupcakes on the required plate ware.
Special thanks to my personal sponsors Kountry Boys Sausage for providing me with delicious Kountry Boy's Bacon and Center Court Pizza and Brew for their delicious pizza dough. I'd also like to thank the World Food Championships Staff, MMA Creative, Mike McCloud, The Jelly Queens, Walmart, Red Gold Tomatoes, and Ankarsrum USA.
World Food Championships wouldn't be the same without my foodie family, some familiar faces and new foodie friends alike. Sadly, I was so busy this year that I missed getting hugs and photos ops with everyone. Hugs, laughter and more Food Sport fun will have to be had at WFC 2019. I love you all and can't wait until next year to see you.
I couldn't do it:
I tried my best to pack all the 2018 World Food Championships events into one post but it's just not possible since this post is already way too long! Stay tuned for more WFC Recap in the weeks to come. TBA
- WFC 2018 Yacht Club Progressive Dinner
- The Second Annual Grand Throwdown
- Ava Marie Romero, my friend
See you all soon! RE