On September 8, 2011 I was headed to Garner TV and Appliance to defend my 2010 Meals on Wheels Chef’s Challenge.My very first competition was in 2010 when I competed against two amazing trained executive chefs (Chris Hylton, owner of The Mint and James Boyle, Executive Chef of downtown’s The Duck and Dumpling) and won. My Carolina Today was kind enough to help promote the event before and after. My signature meal consisted of Naan Bread, Chicken Tikka Masala, Aromatic Rice and Raita, a refreshing Cucumber Yogurt Sauce.

In preparation for this year’s event, I choose to highlight local ingredients and the families behind them like Wilkerson Farm All-Natural Beef, Bee Blessed raw organic honey and the many farmers found at the State Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. My menu consisted of Wholegrain Pan Rolls with Peach Butter, Pear and Roquefort Salad with Blueberries and Candied Pecans, a Honey Dijon Vinaigrette and a French Meat Pie with Gravy and Roasted Green Beans. The local honey was used in my rolls, butter, vinaigrette, the beef was used in my French Meat Pie, and the green beans, onions and pecans were purchased at the local Farmer’s Market.

Because Raleigh is the City of Oaks, we used an oak leaf cookie cutter for the top of the pie.

This year I would be competing against a very nice executive chef from downtown Raleigh’s, The Big Easy. Frank Ferlo would be sharing his signature dish which ended up being Chicken with a delicious Red Pepper Sauce and Homemade Pasta. I thought I was doomed!

I arrived early to prepare my bread dough and to set up the judges station. I wanted the judges to feel warm, welcome and loved by not only my food, but my presentation. Here’s what my dear friends Debbie, Amanda and I came up with.

We chose new old-looking farm dishes with a rusty looking edge for the dinner plates, glass bowls with honey bees etched on the sides and adorable mason jars for the Sweet Green Tea with Blueberry and Bee Blessed local honey. Honey sticks from Bee Blessed were used as stirrers. Old, well-used cream colored napkins and mismatched silverware were used. Little white ramekins would hold the Roasted Green Beans.

Before we began, I took my sous chefs aside and asked, “Do you mind if we pray?” I then led the group in prayer thanking God for the opportunity to serve and raise money for Meals on Wheels of Wake County. During the competition Frank and I enjoyed the fun of competing and the good-nature of ribbing during competition.

The very entertaining Mark Roberts was the emcee and like last year, he helped bring enthusiasm and fun to the event which helped raise lots of funds for our elderly home bound.

We were very organized and ready for the competition to begin. We had everything set up and I knew exactly when and what we should do throughout the evening. The judges would be coming to our kitchen at 7:00 pm to judge our signature dish. We preheated the oven an hour and half early and were ready to bake our Meat Pie and Roast our Green Beans. We began rolling out our homemade pie crust for the French Meat Pie.

When we placed the pie in the oven we realized, that for some reason, the oven had not preheated properly.

Oh no is right, but after a few minutes of panic, we learned that Cafe Caturra had left their broiler on in the kitchen near us for broiling Bruschetta appetizers. We immediately ran our pies over to their broiler and yes, we broiled two meat pies in fifteen minutes! We got the pies baked (or broiled) in the nick of time and all I could do was to pray that they tasted the same. It looked good and all we could do is wait.

To our surprise the judges loved our offering.

Unbelievably, we won the People’s Choice Award and the Top Chef Title! We did not win alone. It was accuse of the love adn effort of my sous chefs, the quality of local ingredients and the judges appreciating for a mom who isn’t a trained chef, but a passionate home cook who lives to feed people!

At the end of the night one of the young sous chefs came up to me with a big hug. He asked, “You know why we won, right?” and before I could answer he said, “We prayed!” It was a great night!