Nov 03, 2014 • By

Creative tips and tricks from Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest Finalists

The 100 finalists who competed this morning at the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in Nashville, Tennessee each have a story.

Whether it’s their first, second or third time making it to the top 100, they each can credit someone or something for sparking their creative juices in the kitchen.

It’s usually a parent, grandparent or other relative who showed them a thing or two in baking and cooking.

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The Pillsbury Doughboy with Carla Hall, host of the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, in Nashville on Nov. 3, 2014.

But some others, maybe somewhere in their 20s or even beyond, drew their inspiration and motivation from television, magazines or elsewhere in our modern, food-obsessed culture.

So as I learned their stories, walking around the sweet and savory-smelling ballroom at Nashville’s Omni Hotel today, I decided to get some advice for tackling the daily meals in your home. Or, for one day entering a recipe in the Bake-Off Contest too.

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Rachel Ruiz, a mom of two young boys and a first-time Bake-Off Contest finalist from Hurlburt Field, Florida, told me you just have to be ready to try – over and over – and tweak your recipes.

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Rachel Ruiz

“I feel like a lot of people get intimidated, they think they can’t do it or they think it’s too hard but the truth is you just go for it. You go in and you try and you do stuff that makes you uncomfortable because you will screw up at first,” says Ruiz. “You can’t be afraid to screw up because it will happen, but you just have to push through and say ‘Alright, I messed it up. Let’s see how I can not mess it up next time!’ Anyone can do it, it just takes practice.”

Shana Butler, a second-time finalist from San Diego, California, says it’s about focusing on a type of food or flavors that you enjoy.

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Shana Butler

“I say do what you love. That’s what got me here the first time,” says Butler. “I love spicy food and the dish I submitted the first time I went with what I love, which was something with spice. Italian is my second favorite – I went with Italian this time. Go with what you love and what you know and you can’t go wrong.”

Mimi Chang, a working mom from Middletown, New Jersey, got to Nashville in her first try in the Bake-Off Contest. She told me look for food trends and push the envelope a bit. And, involve your children.

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Mimi Chang

“I would make it a family event. Kids have a really funny, innocent perspective on things and sometimes it comes out crazy but you’re like ‘There’s a seed of something really original there.’ Maybe crushed Jolly Ranchers on chicken breasts doesn’t work, but I like the idea that you said ‘Let’s do sweet and salty, Mommy!’ says Chang. “So we do everything together and I’m always amazed at how kids really have this innocent, intuitive idea of what their palate is. So for moms, get your kids in the kitchen with you. It makes it a lot more fun. And they’re going to eat the food that they participated in making.”

Sarah Meuser, a second-time finalist from New Milford, Connecticut, says it all comes down to practice.

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Sarah Meuser

“If you’re interested in cooking and baking, practice makes perfect, it’s true. Experiment in the kitchen. But you do have to be precise in baking, you do have to measure things out,” Meuser says. “If you’re just cooking, you can add a dash of this a hint of that, just keep tasting as you go which is fun too.”

Finally, Megan Beimer from Alexandria, Virginia, who also was chosen as a Bake-Off finalist in her first attempt, also says experimentation is key.

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Megan Beimer

“You never know what you might come up with. You look at your ingredients and think about what you could come up with that could be different and easy and delicious” says Beimer. “Just try things out, some things might not work but that’s part of the learning experience. You might find a couple flavors that go well together.”

Hope you can put all that great advice to work.

Our next post from Nashville will highlight the four finalists in the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, being named later tonight – stay tuned!

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