During the cooking competition of a Bake-Off contest, the area with the 100 ovens, lights, cameras, and nervous cooks is always bustling and busy; but you usually don’t hear pounding, and pounding, and pounding. If you were cooking anywhere near Denise Yennie, an accountant from Nashville, Tennessee, you would know why. As Denise developed her “chicken-pounding elbow,” as she called it, it may have been noisy and turned some heads, but there were a million reasons why it needed to be done. You see, Denise was pounding her chicken breasts, preparing them for her fabulous panini sandwich which won her a cool million dollars at the 2002 contest in Orlando, Florida.
This contest was amazing in a couple of respects, above and beyond the usual PBO euphoria. I met the very charming Denise Yennie and we had a great time dancing with the Doughboy at the big, blow-out party the night before the Awards Ceremony. My husband had his video camera along and got hilarious footage of Denise’s husband as he was dragged onstage to be in an Elvis impersonator contest. While he appeared an unlikely fit for Elvis, he surprised the entire audience with his spot-on impersonation and delighted everyone! Later, as Denise and I waited in the food line, she looked over the huge floor filled with people and said, “Just think . . . tomorrow, one of these people is going to be a millionaire.” Little did I know that I was standing right next to that person 🙂
The most amazing memory I came away with from that 2002 contest, was a sweet friendship I made with Cindy Schmuelling, a finalist from Kentucky. I don’t even remember how we met there, but we kept running into each other everywhere we went, and she just had such a glow of excitement and exuberance around her. As we sat next to each other at the early breakfast before we made the march to the Bake-Off floor, she explained the large assortment of pills she was trying to down, along with her breakfast: she had stage 4 ovarian cancer. Her physician had tried to dissuade her from making this trip, but Cindy had waited her whole life to be at the Pillsbury Bake-Off . . . and she was savoring every second of it. As a marching band led us from the breakfast room, we both had tears in our eyes as she sighed and said, “Isn’t this just the best day of your life?”
We continued our friendship through emails and phone calls, through treatments and surgeries, through the ups and (mostly) downs of her illness. Cindy never lost sight of another trip to the PBO again, hoping she would get well enough to make a second appearance someday. I’ll never forget the 2004 July morning when I opened up my email and saw a message from Cindy’s husband, with the subject line, “An angel got her wings.” I’ll also never forget the joy in the eyes of someone who loved being at the Pillsbury Bake-Off more than anybody I’ve ever known – even me. This memory alone always reminds me of how lucky we are to have a hobby that rewards us with such riches . . . whether we win any money or not.
My Nutty Chocolate Pretzel Bars didn’t win any prizes at the 2002 Pillsbury Bake-Off, even though spectators swarmed my station when the tasting samples were ready. It was like throwing chocolate bait to hungry fish, and some even returned to fill little plates to take back to their groups. Oh well, it wasn’t my day, my planets weren’t aligned and my lucky star was on vacation . . . who cares, being a Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist is as close as I’ve ever been to seeing that other side of the rainbow!
Thank you, Patrice. This blog is forever dedicated to your friend and angel, Cindy.
Prize winners from this Bake-Off:
Easy Weeknight Meals Category:
– Mille Meehan- Bow-Thai Chicken
– Merrill DeGroot- Chicken Cordon Bleu Pizza
– Barbie Lee- Chicken Cheese Enchiladas
– Jen Riley- Spinach, Prosciutto, and Roasted Red Pepper Calzone
Luscious and Lighter Main and Side Dishes Category:
$10,000 winner: (and Grand Prize winner)
– Denise Yennie- Chicken Florentine Panini
– Helena Crutcher- Sloppy Joe Loaf
– Susan Runkle- Saucy Pork Medallions with Spiced Couscous
– Karen Welch- Tex-Mex Pasta
Fast and Fabulous Desserts and Treats:
– S. Lea Mead- Grands! Little Pigs
– Kathy Ault- Pecan Pie Ginger Cheesecake
– Kathleen Kildsig- Caramel Cashew Bars
– Steven Mandell- Milleniyum Chocolate Torte
Casual Snacks and Appetizers:
– Pat Murphy- Mexican Party Wings
– Jann Stricklin- Crab Quiche Squares
– Misty Waltman- Seafood Appetizers
– Ann Zovko- Bacon Spinach Pizza
GE Innovation Award:
– Maria Baldwin- Spicy Asian Lettuce Wraps
To find the recipe for “Chicken Florentine Panini” go to:
Photo of “Chicken Florentine Panini” is by my daughter, Kristina Vanni. Visit her blog at: http://www.betterrecipes.com/blogs/daily-dish
To read all my previous Bake-Off blogs:
Bake-Off #1: http://su.pr/7gmylO
Bake-Off #2: http://su.pr/2zgjZn
Bake-Off #3: http://su.pr/7VZzZS
Bake-Off #4: http://su.pr/292acQ
Bake-Off #5: http://su.pr/2yOSvP
Bake-Off #6: http://su.pr/28VYBh
Bake-Off #7: http://su.pr/1hk3nb
Bake-Off #8: http://su.pr/22JMGd
Bake-Off #9: http://su.pr/2KkA2E
Bake-Off #10: http://su.pr/8awD1k
Bake-Off #11: http://su.pr/1CmPvD
Bake-Off #12: http://su.pr/3ogo5M
Bake-Off #13: http://su.pr/1a4HYQ
Bake-Off #14: http://su.pr/3tgiV5
Bake-Off #15: http://su.pr/7tQXBu
Bake-Off #16: http://su.pr/9nPW7c
Bake-Off #17: http://su.pr/9WIaqm
Bake-Off #18: http://su.pr/6MMS45
Bake-Off #19: http://su.pr/2A7GXI
Bake-Off #20: http://su.pr/2MwjlD
Bake-Off #21: http://su.pr/1nIgIJ
Bake-Off #22: http://su.pr/1nkUgJ
Bake-Off #23 http://su.pr/20jQDK
Bake-Off #24 http://su.pr/AMfFSj
Bake-Off #25 http://su.pr/4btzLZ
Bake-Off #26 http://su.pr/2sJrvp
Bake-Off #27 http://su.pr/9cG4B1
Bake-Off #28 http://su.pr/24CMm0
Bake-Off #29 http://su.pr/8th5eg
Bake-Off #30 http://su.pr/AUUGkZ
Bake-Off #31 http://su.pr/9j9TQ6
Bake-Off #32 http://su.pr/76Fl0s
Bake-Off #33 http://su.pr/26Q4KJ
Bake-Off #34 (part 1) http://su.pr/3TlcVI
(part 2) http://su.pr/7suCub
Bake-Off #35 http://su.pr/1lZC8X
Bake-Off #36 http://su.pr/1Ogl7Q
Bake-Off #37 http://goo.gl/39Fh0
Bake-Off #38 http://goo.gl/5xrPz
Bake-Off #39 http://goo.gl/ca52t
Another great event that brings tears to my eyes. You really need to write a book.
Thank you, Lisa. There are so many amazing Bake-Off stories and contestants- more than people realize. I wish I had space for them all.
I had also met Cindy at this Bake-Off. She was, indeed, a very special person.
I love your Bake Off blog posts, Debbie! It was fun reading about Pat’s Advantium oven, and, Patrice’s story brought a tear to my eye. Those of us who have attended the Pillsbury Bake Off truly are blessed!
Oh, man, now I’ve got tears down the face. Well written, lovely story Debbie.
Thanks, Ronna. Those of us who have been lucky enough to attend, understand the love for the contest!
I understand, Terese. I could hardly write through my tears.