Fanny Slater remembers running late for her first day of school years ago when her dad handed her a small, warm foil packet.
“I just remember what it tasted like, what it felt like,” the Raleigh native said of the warm English muffin sandwich inside.
That creation won Slater, now 28, a cookbook contract with TV personality Rachael Ray. The honor was announced on the syndicated “Rachael Ray Show” Monday.
In November, the show launched its Great American Cookbook Competition, which attracted applicants from across the nation. Requirements included an idea for a cookbook, a demonstration video and several recipes.
Slater, who now caters and writes about food in Wilmington, called her cookbook idea, “Tastes Like Childhood.” It focuses on creating elaborate meals derived from priceless childhood food moments. For Slater, such a food was the “Tin Foil Surprise” her dad made.
“Every day as I would unpeel the wrapper, my dad would turn around and say, ‘What’d you get?’ And it started to be known as the Tin Foil Surprise,” Slater said.
Her dad made it with an egg, sharp cheddar cheese and fresh sage. Today, she makes it with an egg, orange-lavender fig jam, Havarti cheese and fresh green arugula.
As her name and picture flashed on the big screen and confetti popped in the air, Slater said, “My mind went so completely blank.”
“It felt so surreal,” Slater said. “It really just means every step I’ve taken, no matter how off-the-beaten path, all these different choices have led me to exactly this moment. It means everything.”
Slater left Meredith College after her freshman year to move to Hollywood to pursue acting. She said she “bounced around” for a year and a half doing jobs such as chiropractor’s assistant, dental assistant, retail clerk, waitress and bartender.
“I literally tried everything that I could. And the whole time, I was making this amazing food in my apartment,” Slater said.
After her time in Hollywood, she returned to North Carolina. In 2009, she finished her degree in English from William Peace University and started blogging about food, catering and working as a financial marketing consultant. After seeing her passion for food, her marketing boss even suggested she quit working for him.
She did, last June. Now she runs Fanfare Catering in Wilmington and blogs at www.fanfarefoodie.wordpress.com. Her style is gourmet, but also approachable and homey.
Some day she wants her own TV show, and she said she is inspired in particular by Ray, who doesn’t have a formal culinary education.
“She has been one of the biggest inspirations to my generation, as she is the home cook on TV,” Slater said.
Slater’s food education came from her parents, magazines, Food Network shows and her own experimentation: “I don’t like anything structured. I don’t like anything inside the box.”
The cookbook competition win comes with a cookbook deal with Rachael Ray Books; a trip to Cancun, Mexico; General Electric kitchen appliances; Rachael Ray cookware; an appearance on the Rachael Ray show and a feature in Every Day with Rachael Ray magazine.