Behind the Scenes Before the Bake-Off

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Before the Bake-Off contestants of the 45th competition arrived in Orlando, the media came a day ahead to get settled in for the contest.  My daughter Kristina and I were beyond thrilled to be a part of this team.  I left on Saturday afternoon, went easily through a short security line, and found myself seated next to a darling little 6-year old boy on his way to Disney World with his dad.  Unfortunately, dad drank a little too many rum and cokes, and I found myself watching the boy carefully and chatting with him here and there.  At one point, we hit about 15 minutes of uncomfortable turbulence.  My little passenger looked scared, so I told him it was fine, and that we were on a roller coaster like Space Mountain at Disney.  His face lit up immediately, then he bounced around with the turbulence.  He had such a good time doing so, I even let go of my white knuckles on the arm rest.  After the tossing around finally ceased, the little guy declared, “Wow!  That was so much fun, I could do it for 503 years!”  I was glad he thought so, because 15 minutes was enough for me!

Greeting me at baggage claim was a friendly Bake-Off team face along with a driver holding up a sign with my name on it.  (why is that so fun to see?)  We got my luggage and went out to the private car for a short ride to the incredible Peabody Hotel Orlando.  Since I was the last arrival, someone took my luggage and whisked me off to a bus that was waiting for me to get there so we could all go to dinner.  Kristina was in the bus, saving me a seat.

Our first media event was dinner at Jiko- The Cooking Place, at Disney, where we dined with the Bake-Off judges and the rest of the invited media.  The food was South African, and completely amazing.

We started out with these wonderful breads and crackers including pappadam, poppy seed lavash, and house-made naan.  They were served with the colorful and flavorful sauces of bhuna masala, sagh dahl, Moroccan chermoula, and kalamata hummus.
Each course to follow included South African wine pairings.  This interesting display of wine bottles was made especially for the restaurant.  The wine below was one of our favorites.
This wonderful wine, “Spice Route Chakalaka, Swartland” was served with the first course of grilled wild boar tenderloin with mealie pap, white truffle oil and micro cilantro.


The second course was a forelle pear carpaccio, golden raisin-icewine vinaigrette, pistachios, and pecorino toscano cheese, served with Rudero Robusto, Chenin Blanc, Swartland.
The third course was braised beef short ribs, butter-whipped potatoes, pearl onions, baby carrots, and Cabernet blood orange sauce, served with Rust-En-Vrede, Merlot, Stellenbosch.
The fourth course was a maize-crusted corvina, vegetables of the moment and tomato-butter sauce, served with Bouchard Finlayson “Blanc de Mer,” Western Cape.
Dessert was a taste of three of their favorite flavors- coconut, strawberry, and chocolate.  All divine!
Kristina and I returned to the hotel and decided the night was still young.  It happened that two contestant friends arrived a day early, and we all decided to meet up in one of the hotel lounges.   At the last Bake-Off, we became friends with Brett Youmans and Linda Bibbo, and had kept in touch ever since.  We met them with their families and had the best time.  It was the perfect way to start our Bake-Off adventure, with good food and good friends.  Kristina and I fell into our beds exhausted, but looking forward to the adventures to follow.  We didn’t get much sleep, as we were awakened by a beautiful breakfast-in-bed, made especially for the media.
Don’t you love the Bake-Off lid on the yogurt parfait?
Look at the duck butter in honor of the Peabody ducks!  We even had duck-shaped soap in the bathroom.  More on the ducks later!
After breakfast was a day of seminars, as we waited for the contestants to arrive.  First up was Kelsey Nixon from the Cooking Channel show, “Kelsey’s Essentials,” who spoke about sharing family meals.  Following Kelsey was “The Future of Flavor,” sponsored by McCormick and Company spices and led by several chefs.  This interactive presentation included a  beautiful plate of items to taste, showcasing how flavors blend together.
As you may have surmised by now, Pillsbury loves to feed their guests, and feeds them well!  After  breakfast-in-bed, and the wonderful McCormick tastings, it was  time for lunch.  Following lunch was an interesting panel of speakers from Martha Stewart Living, including the editor-in-chief of MSL, the editor-in-chief of Everyday Food, and the executive director of food and entertaining.  These amazing women were fascinating to listen to, and answered questions from the audience. 
Next up was a talk and cooking demo from Chef Jeff Henderson of the Food Network’s ” The Chef Jeff Project.”  And more tastings.  The chef charmed the crowd with his beautiful smile, and left us awed by his inspirational story.  We were also able to view the latest General Electric Cafe appliances, which were innovative and beautiful. 
Kristina with Chef Jeff
And guess what.  The day isn’t over yet.  As the contestants arrived during the day and later enjoyed their time together at their own dinner, the media was attending the ultimate dinner party – with none other than Martha herself…
The restaurant was lovely, but when Martha entered the room it came alive.  She graciously chatted with everyone before sitting down to dinner.  Before we began eating, Martha talked about her new cookbook, “Martha’s American Food,” a beautiful book with recipes from all over the country.
Before being served, Martha came over to our table, held up her camera, and said – “Smile!”  It seems she carries her own camera and puts photos on her media sites.  Martha was seated at the table next to us, but at our table was one of her assistants.  I just had to ask her about Martha’s cookbook collection.  It seems she loves to collect every kind of cookbook, and has a huge library.  I was sighing inside as I listened about her collection, wishing I could someday see it.  I’m sure it’s larger than the few thousand in my basement!  And speaking of collections, as we left the restaurant, I saw Kristina talking to someone and she motioned me over.  It turns out that this lovely gentleman, Steve, told Kristina that he had every single Bake-Off book but one, from the 39th contest.  Well….. I said – I think I can help you.  Since the 39th Bake-Off was Kristina’s 2nd contest, you know darn well this mom bought a bunch of them!  Steve was elated when I told him I had extra copies and would mail him one.  Every Bake-Off lover needs the full collection.
Whew! It had already been two full days of adventure, and the Bake-Off had not yet begun!  I must agree with the statement of my little fellow airline passenger:  I, too, could do this for 503 years.  After all, what is more fun than the Pillsbury Bake-Off?
Come back tomorrow for the story straight from the Bake-Off floor and see who wins the million dollars! 

13 Responses to Behind the Scenes Before the Bake-Off

  1. March 29, 2012 at 4:37 am #

    Debbie-What a wonderful post to be able to hear about the behind the scenes at the Bake-Off Contest! It was an absolute thrill to get to meet you and Kristina on the floor of the Bake-Off! My daughter is my best girlfriend and to see a mother-daughter team get to work together like the two of you is such a treat! Best wishes and a giant thanks for the pictures and story on the PBO website blog–Grandma Jane (Doughboy Caspian)

  2. March 29, 2012 at 6:47 am #

    Jane! I am so happy you wrote. You will see yourself, your sweet daughter, and darling little doughbaby again in future blogs. It was a joy to meet you all, and I hope our paths cross again. Also, your recipe was fabulous!

  3. March 29, 2012 at 7:02 am #

    WOW! Wonderful- think I’d enjoy going as press. dmr

  4. March 29, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Donna-Marie, you would definitely love it!

  5. March 29, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    Welcome back, Debbie. I loved reading this. The press dinner sounds wonderful, and your pictures are making me very hungry and thirsty. I love that Rust-en-Verde Merlot. I’m a big fan of South African wines in general. And it’s so nice that you got to meet Martha. I’m looking forward to reading about the winning recipes. I’ve avoided reading anything in the news about the contest results. I prefer waiting for your blog.

  6. March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am #

    MsZin, you are so sweet. Tomorrow will be the Bake-Off blog with all the winning results. I thought about you every time we were served a different wine!

  7. March 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm #

    What a great story with pics! I so enjoyed reading your post. I, too, have the complete collection of PBO booklets. Can’t wait to get the new one.

  8. March 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Thanks, Pat! I just bought some extra copies myself. So many good recipes this contest!

  9. March 29, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

    I just love your blog posts, Debbie!!!! And this was such a great experience for you and Kristina! I know one of the judges, Andrea Astrachan from Ahold, Stop and Shop and Giant Food. I saw her photo as a returning judge for this contest! She’s so sweet!

  10. March 29, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    Thanks so much, Ronna! It was an amazing experience.

  11. March 30, 2012 at 10:27 pm #

    These last two write-ups of this great series are fabulous Debbie. They made me feel Like I was there and that I wished I was there again at the same time! Thanks for the great fun this year!

  12. March 30, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    Thanks, Julee! I’m so happy you have enjoyed all the blogs over the past year!

  13. March 31, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Debbie you are a wonderful writer and I’ve enjoyed reading your blog posts over the months. Thanks for stopping by my mini kitchen (and couple times) and introducing yourself. I am just sorry I never got it together enough to provide alot of samples. Had SO many issues this final PBO (mostly appliance/equipment related)and not enough time. You seemed to be enjoying yourself and you have an engaging smile. Till next one, keep up the good work and attitude! (p.s. I too got to meet/know Tina and I was overjoyed for her). so fun to watch her win!! (Teresa oven #89).

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