Plenty of chef competitions grab our attention on television, at special events and more. But while those culinarians who roll up their sleeves to develop a product might not get to soak up the glamor, their work is still plenty serious.
At the Bake, Broil & Brew’s third annual Culinary Creativity Cook-Off Contest Saturday, finalists Karen Jones, Jenny Hagendorf and Schervy Ortiz prepared three very different items — ones that they hoped would win the contest, but more importantly, would give them a step up in their creative careers. In addition to presenting food or drink, they also were required to write an essay describing their inspirations, “Aha” moments, and what their perfect day would be.
The grand prize was to be 20 free hours of commercial kitchen rental time at Bake, Broil & Brew, plus a few other things, including cash and cookware. Bake, Broil & Brew is an incubator kitchen for entrepreneurs at 1508 Guadalupe St. that is owned by Michelle and David Solis,
An unusual Hotdog & Pretzels Cupcake was created by Jones, whose business is Crafty Karen’s Bakery. The cupcake was cheered for its outrageous creativity and, yes, it contained a grilled wienie with a touch of Dijon mustard, plus crushed pretzels. The cupcake was the first item introduced to judges Arthur Garcia, San Antonio Restaurant Association president and owner of Nicha’s Comida Mexicana; Michael Ruiz, pastry chef instructor at the Art Institute of San Antonio; and myself, co-founder of SavorSA.
A cupcake made with a hot dog is a pretty sensational act to follow, but the two other finalists presented items that were admittedly tamer, but no less interesting.
Schervy Ortiz’s bottle of a cold, eggnog-like concoction, based on coconut milk, is a drink called coquito. He learned to make it from his mom — his family are native Puerto Ricans — who made it to give away as gifts at Christmas. His business is Coquito Co. and he named his product Ponce de Leon Coquito. His dream is to sell his beverage as a good drink all by itself, or as a drink mix, served with a shot of rum or tequila. The judges agreed with him that the creamy drink was good both ways. A sprinkle of nutmeg on top wouldn’t hurt, either.
In his essay, Ortiz said mentioned that while his recipe is unique to his family, coquito is getting national recognition. It has been featured on Martha Stewart’s show, and there is a restaurant by that name in New York City.
“The fire in me moves in a direction towards a passion of a strong belief that with a bit of perseverance and a hint of faith, a pinch of hard work, it will succeed,” Ortiz wrote.
The winner of the cook-off was Jennifer Hagendorf. Her business name is devouRD, which reflects not only her passion to cook, which began at an early age with her own Easy Bake Oven, but her health career as a registered dietitian.
Hagendorf’s healthful approach to the usually decadent chocolate truffles impressed judges for their tempting, very chocolatey flavor. We also appreciated the fact that Hagendorf used no dairy and no added, processed sugar. Their sweetness came from dried dates and a hint of sweet agave nectar; they also were flavored with cocoa, espresso, spices and extra virgin coconut oil.
“… The idea of infusing local yields from the surrounding area — Poteet strawberries, Texas Hill Country lavender or even San Antonio microbrew beer, gets me too too enthused to not take that next step. I really want people to venture out with their taste buds to explore new flavors while gaining health benefits,” said Hagendorf.
Finalist Karen Jones smiled throughout the competition, looking as though she not only had fun creating what is maybe the world’s first hot dog cupcake, but loved the thrill of competition, too.
She said baking cupcakes for a mom who then wanted to order some for her kids got her started. Doing it, she said in her essay, “I enjoyed it so much that I thought to myself ‘I with I could do this every day and make a living out of it.’ So I did.”
Her invention did contain a grilled wienie, chopped pretzels and “just a touch” of Dijon mustard. “Because, what’s a hot dog without the mustard?” she said to the judges.
The cupcakes came to the table decorated with a pretzel on top of the thick frosting, and served with a side of popcorn in a ballpark box. It was sweet with whimsy and quite a sweet-tasting cupcake, too. She ground up pretzels and added a little honey; she spent 30 minutes, she said, chopping that wienie up into little tiny pieces.
The taste of wienie was not overpowering, but there it was. Mustard, too. Coming from a sports-loving family and herself a fan of the Houston Astros, Jones was pretty sure her grandmother, one of the people who inspired her, would have loved it.
And, who’s to say that a Hotdog & Pretzels Cupcake wouldn’t be a huge hit at baseball games? We cheer her effort — and urge her to take that next step.