ROLAND SACHS/Special to the County News
Jasmin Baron, in her Livonia kitchen with her “Spicy Sesame Tuna Bites.” Baron will be competing for $1 million March 25–27 in the Pillsbury Bake-Off in Orlando.
Livonia woman is Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist
The mother of all amateur-cooking contests is about to take center stage and a Livonia woman will be standing in the spotlight.
Jasmin Baron will be among the 100 finalists in the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest vying for the million dollar prize March 25-27 in Orlando, Fla.
Baron will be dishing up her Spicy Sesame Tuna Bites recipe, which is posted online at pillsbury.com/bakeoff. “A cool-as-a cucumber tuna and appetizer that also has a spicy kick,” is how the website describes the recipe.
Baron created the dish specifically for the Bake-Off and she describes it as “an Asian version of a tuna salad with a crunch to it.”
“Japanese and Asian food is trendy now. Wegmans has a spicy tuna roll at its sushi bar in the Geneseo store. I thought that I could use canned tuna to do it. All the pieces fit together, ” said Baron.
The 12 judges will be looking for creative and simple dishes to go along with a modern lifestyle. The recipe must appeal to families.
“An appetizer as the Grand Finalist is a long shot. The last Bake-Off winner was mini ice cream cookie cups. It’s about due,” said Baron referring to her recipe category, “Entertaining Appetizers.”
“To get to this level of competition is huge. I was notified this summer when my family and I were on vacation in Europe, and you could hear me scream all the way to Geneseo,” said Baron.
Baron is the wife of Mark Gillespie, who is editor of The Livingston County News, and a mother of three children. She has been in the competitive cooking arena for about four years. She is a part-time flight instructor at a Canadian college.
The idea of entering cooking contests occurred to Baron when she was home with young children and just new to the Livonia area. She wanted something that she could do that would fit her lifestyle.
Baron entered the smaller and less-known contests that she researched through the Cooking Contest Central website. It advertises itself as the premier online community dedicated to competitive cooking recipe contests.
Baron found the latest list of contests and a whole group of hobbyists that shared in the profitable venture.
“There’s a whole subculture out there of food contestants,” said Baron.
Through live chats and shared information with new “foodie” friends, she found that her cooking skills, creativity and problem solving strategies set her on the road to success.
“Within a month I won a contest, and I was hooked,” said Baron.
“I got into the flow going for bigger contests when I entered and won $10,000 in the Mission Menus Challenge in Hollywood in September 2010,” said Baron.
Baron said that in that particular contest there were a lot of cameras shooting around her and Sara Moulton, chef, cookbook author and TV personality looked closely over her shoulder at one point. She doesn’t anticipate the same atmosphere in Orlando.
For this year’s Bake-Off Baron entered 19 recipes. There are four main categories: Breakfast and Brunch; Entertaining Appetizers; Dinner Made Easy; Sweet Treats.
Contestants are required to select at least one product from the A and B lists of sponsor merchandise. In Baron’s case, she chose to use a new product, the Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations Seamless Dough Sheet as one choice.
For the Pillsbury Bake-Off, Baron will have four hours to make her appetizer two times with the option of making a third one.
Although Baron has made the bite- sized treat at home and for others, she does not anticipate issues at hand in Orlando.
Not to be outdone, husband Mark occasionally has entered and won a contest. Dole Pineapple sent them on a trip to Hawaii.
Daughters Clara, 6, and Eliza, 4, has taken up the challenge with mom and dad’s encouragement. Both girls won national contests making it a family affair.
“Food has always been a big deal,” said Baron, who hails from Mississauga, Ontario. Her mother is Filipino and her father is Canadian with German and Eastern European roots. Baron started cooking dinner at twelve, and became “the roommate that cooked” in college.
Cooking competitions have been a part of the American way of life since the pioneer days. Women entered their jams, jellies, pickles and pies at the county fair.
During the 1950s there was a postwar boon in the kitchen.
Since the first Pillsbury competition in 1949, more than 4,000 finalists have competed for the Grand Prize. The first winner took home $50,000.
This year each of the four major category winners will receive $5,000, along with a chance to be the overall medalist.
Early winning recipes were frilly, complicated deserts. As American entertaining and eating habits became more relaxed through the decades, dishes selected met new requirements. Quick and convenient now are important factors in the judges’ decision.
The 2012 Bake-Off contestants come from all over the United States, and they range in age from 27-79. Five are men. New York State is represented from Buffalo to Long Island.