FALMOUTH — Though she calls herself “a bit of a rookie” when it comes to cooking contests, Mountain Road resident Jessie Grearson has already proven herself a serious contender.
In just two years, Grearson has won or placed in more than half a dozen contests, earning several thousand dollars, a trip for two to Portugal, two trips to New York City, a $5,000 gas grill and various smaller prizes.
Now she has been selected as a finalist in two national cooking contests that will fly her to bake-offs at two different destinations in as many months.
Her recipe for Chicken Naan-wiches with Date and Yoghurt (sic) Sauces has garnered her $1,000 and one of nine coveted spots in the National Chicken Cooking Contest, with a chance to win $50,000 in San Antonio, Texas, on May 2. The longest-running annual cooking competition in the country, National Chicken is considered one of the best in the cooking world, Grearson said.
“It’s a very old, very established contest,” she said. “Once you submit a recipe you can’t vary a grain of salt.”
Inspired by her Indian mother-in-law’s cooking, over the years Grearson has expanded her repertoire of spices and flavors. For her “Naan-wich” recipe, she said she was influenced by traditional Indian
“My two spices growing up were salt and pepper,” she said. “Meeting (her husband, Viren Sapat) opened up a whole new cupboard of spices.”
But the spice cupboard isn’t the only open door in Grearson’s kitchen.
“When I get cooking, every cupboard is open,” she said. “I’m really happy; I have a good time putting flavors together.”
That wasn’t always the case. Grearson, who regularly writes for Kirkus and AudioFile magazine and has had two books published, said she “used to complain about having to cook all the time” for her family. But now, with every meal a chance to try a new recipe on her family of eager taste-testers, the drudgery has become a challenge – with some fantastic results.
Her cooking experiments with sweet potatoes last year are now paying off with her latest honor. Last week she was named one of eight finalists in King Arthur Flour and Kansas Wheat’s first National Festival of Breads.
The contest sponsors will fly Grearson to Wichita, Kan., to bake her Sweet Life Sweet Potato Focaccia for the judges during the contest June 15-17. In addition to the finalists’ prize of $500 and a tour of a working Kansas wheat farm, if she’s the grand prize winner Grearson will receive $2,000 and a trip to a baking class at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vt.
Though her playful effort of combining new combinations can result in happy accidents, Grearson does not win by accident. She regularly researches trends in cooking and popular ingredients, as well as the types of recipes that have done well in specific contests in the past.
She said she’s often inspired when she’s in the car.
“My ideas come when I’m driving my kids around and I think of something and I’m hungry, but I have no food,” she said.
But cooking is cyclical for Grearson, whose other passion is gardening. Known by many as the gardener at the top of Mountain Road, she relies on her fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs during the growing season, creating recipes that bring new meaning to “starting from scratch.”
Grearson began entering cooking contests to inspire her children, Emma and Ellie Sapat, to take chances. Since then, they have won both cooking and essay contests, as well as the right to the title of official taste-testers of their mom’s creations.
But Grearson’s pursuit of cooking has won her something more – another way to spend time with her daughters, teaching them to cook.
“It’s turned into something fun,” Grearson said.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.