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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bake-Off scuttlebutt & cooking

The $1 million winner of the 44th Pillsbury Bake-Off will be announced Wednesday on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Many of the assembled food editors are grumbling, because they"ll have only the names of the four finalists when they put their Wednesday food sections to bed on Tuesday night. Scuttlebutt has it that The Food Network is apparently boycotting the Bake-Off because of that decision just two weeks ago to give Oprah the scoo .

The Food Network was a huge presence at the last Bake-Off - in 2008 in Dallas - but was nowhere to be seen on the competition floor Monday. No one is saying why officially, but several food editors admitted they almost canceled when they learned the news.

Some of the assembled food editors have been to more than a dozen Bake-Offs and a few have even served as judges. For each Bake-Off Pillsbury chooses 12 judges from among the country's food professionals. A few of them noted that familiar Pillsbury faces from past Bake-Offs also are missing this year.

But the competition itself ran like a well-oiled machine on Monday, when the 100 finalists began cooking their prize-winning recipes at 8 a.m. and finished up at noon. They worked at 100 identical mini kitchens, each supplied with the ingredients and utensils called for in their recipes. They shared refrigerators and volunteers, many from the Pillsbury offices in Minneapolis carried away dirty pans and took their dishes for refrigeration when needed.

Pillsbury executives and other employees helped contenders get their creations to the refrigerator for the cooling process, carried away the dirty dishes and helped when competitors weren't familiar withfood processors or other equipment .

We caught up with Steve Hiller, Pillsbury Vice President for research and development as he was bussing away dirty pans for contestants. "We do what ever is needed," he said. "This is the third time I've worked a Bake-Off and every one is a lot of fun."

Here in Northeast Ohio we're cheering for Linda Bibbo of Bainbridge Township, who is a finalist for the second time. Contenders can cook their way to be among the top 100 finalists three different times, and then they retire for life. The Bake-Off began in 1949 and in recent years has taken place every other year.

Yolanda Sue Bowser, who was listed as being from Solon, is actually from Parkman. She works on the bun-slicing line at Schwebel's in Solon, which is probably why she slipped under our radar as a local contender. Her Chocolate-Cherry-Pistachio Brownies are in the Sweet Treats category.

But winning is nothing new to Sue, as she prefers to be called. She once won dinner with the mayor for painting she did and she won a sailboat in a dance contest.

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