May 11, 2016

Most people enter culinary academy because they have a deep and abiding love for food. They want to share the transformative experience that accompanies a really great meal. And while all that’s well and good, some people enjoy cooking with a more competitive edge. One way is to enter recipe contests, in which people submit their best creations in exchange for plenty of glory and a little cash prize. If you’re still a culinary student, these contests are a great chance to hone your skills and make a name for yourself. But before you submit your customized pecan pie recipe, here are five helpful tips to assure victory in any contest:

“Ignoring even the simplest rule can get you disqualified from a contest.”

1. Carefully read the rules
Depending on the group behind it, some of these contests have rather specific rules. For instance, some might not only require the use of a special ingredient, but that it’s also sold by one brand or company in particular. Not following even the simplest of rules is enough to get you disqualified. As an extension of this, make sure you’re formatting your recipe per the organization’s guidelines. Use simple, easy to follow language and measurements.

2. Get creative
Most contests are all about creativity. Judges want to see how far you can push the boundaries of cooking and achieve something that’s new and interesting. Kristina Vanni, who has been entering recipe contests since she was a young girl, offered this bit of advice: people just want old twists on new favorites. So, rather than adding spicy chilies to cupcakes, find a way to infuse a new kind of fruit into an old standby recipe. It’s important to balance your creative interests with the tastes of others, who may not be quite as adventurous.

Creme brulee dessert

3. Scope out the competition
As with any competition, you want to know who or what you’ll be going up against in every recipe contest. Take the time to read through past winners, and look for anything that landed them first place. Was it a specific ingredient or just the base recipe? Maybe it all boiled down to simplicity or some kind of theme. There are also plenty of people who post winning recipes. Understand how these chefs approach recipes or certain foods may give you insight into how to create and frame your very own recipes.

4. Don’t go overboard
A few years back, Glo McNeill won an episode of Food Network Canada’s “Recipe to Riches” series by submitting her Luscious Lemon Pudding. The trick, as she told Canadian Living magazine, is to always keep your recipes simple and straightforward. She explained that her dessert only featured five ingredients. It’s more than just creating new twists, though. Judges want quality and taste, and not having 20 ingredients means you’ll have a simpler, purer recipe overall. Using only a handful of items also displays a certain kind of mastery and skill.

“Give your recipe a clever name, like ‘A Clockwork Orange Cake.'”

5. Smile for the camera
As the Penny Hoarder pointed out, most recipe contests will require you send at least one picture of the dish itself. You may not be a natural photographer, but there are a few key concepts to keep in mind. Always display food vertically and horizontally, as it’ll show off more of the food. You might want to include fresh produce, which looks pleasing, or maybe a fork stuck into the dish, which creates a sense of action. Finally, natural lighting is your friend, and will brighten up any photo. Some chefs will even create a theme for their dish, one usually tied to the name of the recipe. That’s why it’s important to have clever names, like “A Clockwork Orange Cake,” as it gives you more to work with.

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