The Pillsbury Bake-Off is one of the few food contests where you won’t see the names of Charlotte’s Janice and Larry Elder.
They topped out as finalists in the 1990s. Under Bake-Off rules, you or a member of your family can’t make the finals more than three times. Janice went twice and Larry went three times.
But over 35 years or so of pursuing food contests as a serious hobby, they’ve entered – and won – pretty much everything, from the National Chicken Cooking Contest to the National Beef Cookoff and every product contest in between. They haven’t stopped, either: Larry Elder will be on the Cooking Channel at 9 p.m. April 10 as one of 10 finalists in a show about the Beringer Great Steak Challenge.
We asked for their tips on contest success:
• Keep up with food trends. “We read (newspapers), magazines and cookbooks, go out to eat and travel,” says Larry Elder.
• Keep it simple and minimize the number of ingredients, but look for a spin that makes your recipe stand out and makes people want to try it. For instance, in a Country Crock contest last year, Janice added lemon and basil flavors to a coconut pound cake.
• Know what the sponsors are promoting.
• Make sure the sponsor’s product is presented well, says Janice. After all, that’s why companies sponsor contests – so you’ll use what they sell.
• When you send in recipes, make sure they’re written well: List ingredients in the order they’re used and use standard measurements. “A lot of people who are starting out just throw things in and the recipe isn’t thought-out and presented well.”
• Consider a subscription to www.contestcooking.com. Part of the site, Cooking Contest Central, is free, but it’s $25 a year to access the whole thing. The Elders say it’s worth it.