The Tampa Bay area will have at least three contestants in the Pillsbury Bake-Off this year.
Bethany Perry of Largo; Marie Valdes of Brandon; and Debbie Reid of Clearwater, are among 33 semifinalists in the Amazing Doable Dinners category who won enough online votes to advance to the biggest competition in all of amateur cookdom. The winner of the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off, this year in Las Vegas Nov. 10-12, takes home $1 million.
From 180 semifinalists in three categories, 100 will make it through to the finals. This is the first year that Pillsbury has invited the public to select the finalists through an online vote and is doing so in stages. The next voting period, for Simple Sweets and Starters, opens June 13.
Perry, 38, a homemaker and mother of seven, was especially nervous about the online voting since she has very little presence online. "I don't do Facebook or any of that stuff," she said when she first learned she'd made the semifinals for her Chicken and Spinach Biscuit Gyros. Perhaps it was the enticing photo of the finished dish prepared by the Pillsbury kitchen staff that swayed voters. Apparently, no social media blitz was needed.
Valdes, 52, who works in the human resources department at Express Scripts Pharmacy in Tampa, got a spot with her Honey Chicken and Corn Rafts. Valdes' veggie-heavy dish was inspired by a TV program she saw recently on the White House gardens and beehives, and first lady Michelle Obama's healthy-eating initiative.
Reid, 49, who works in administration for the Clearwater Parks and Recreation Department, would seem to have the edge in the competition, not because of her Sweet Pulled Pork Pizza, but because she has been on a cooking contest roll. In the past year, she has won contests sponsored by St. Francis Winery, Fage yogurt and a joint competition sponsored by ABC's The Chew and Bush's Beans. Her winnings have included trips to New York and the wine regions of Northern California and Oregon.
Recipe entry periods for the remaining categories are:
• Simple Sweets and Starters: through May 9.
• Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts: July 4 to Aug. 8.
Voting periods are announced on BakeOff.com, where rules and the list of eligible ingredients can be found. Besides the $1 million grand prize, which has been awarded since 1996, other awards include cash and GE appliances.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.