A woman, a chicken dinner, a million dollars-and a romp through the heartland of America's competitive cooking culture.
When Ellie Mathews entered her Salsa Couscous Chicken in the venerable Pillsbury Bake-Off, she never imagined she'd win the grand prize. Immediately after Alex Trebek announced that her dish had won a million dollars, she was thrown into the limelight. Booked with Oprah and Rosie-even photographed for the New York Times in a vest made of ostrich feathers-she instantly became the reigning queen of chickendom, the Pillsbury "It Girl" of the moment.
With a dash of self-deprecating humor and a pinch of biting social commentary, Ellie takes readers on her roller coaster ride to the top of the food chain as the Pillsbury prizewinner. As a cooking contest insider, she goes behind the counter and beyond the aprons and oven mitts to reveal a fascinating slice of Americana.
In this blas memoir, Seattle author Mathews (Ambassador to the Penguins) recounts her journey from kitchen amateur to winner of the million-dollar 1998 Pillsbury Bake-Off. Mathews, a married graphic designer, had been halfheartedly entering and winning recipe contests since 1980, such as one for REI recreational equipment, in which she had to combine packets of freeze-dried food into a semblance of a meal, or the state Beef Cook-Off, where she placed second for Siberian Beef. However, the Pillsbury Bake-Off is the mother of all recipe competitions, and Mathews cannily reworked a tried-and-true halibut recipe using the company's Old El Paso salsa and some chicken thighs and came up with the reliable Salsa Couscous Chicken. Summoned to Orlando, Fla., where the finalists are royally and publicly pampered, Mathews dutifully re-created her "30-Minute Main Dish" and was stunned to be singled out by host Alex Trebek as the winner of $1 million. Her memoir has a curiously unimpassioned quality, padded with details about visiting Disney World with the other contestants, choosing presentable outfits and becoming a grandmother.