Recipe almost made store shelves
Melissa Gilbert’s Friday night poker buddies told her to go all in. She did, and it almost paid off.
Gilbert has always been the group’s chef but it took some convincing for her to join in at the table.
One Thanksgiving she realized there was no way she would have enough time to do the full-meal deal. Gilbert came up with “a faster, more easy version.” She wrapped turkey breasts, stuffing and cranberry sauce in bacon. It was fancier than a gigantic turkey, and it looked a lot like sushi.
“I took my experience of making sushi and laid out all the bacon out flat like seaweed. It was much easier and it still came out the same. I put bacon on everything, I’m a huge fan,” says Gilbert who claims to eat the meat daily. “I think bacon’s in my blood.”
The friends loved it.
They told the New West resident she should enter CBC’s Recipe to Riches competition, a show that finds recipes for the President’s Choice frozen food line.
“I actually make it in large quantities so you can throw it in the freezer and pull it out anytime,” says Gilbert.
Just for fun she sent it in.
“I wasn’t planning on going to the auditions until [the show’s producers] called me and said I should go,” says Gilbert.
She put all her chips on the table and went for the big prize. “I definitely was all in for that one.”
The judges liked her “Great Canadian Turkey Dinner, Eh” so much they made her a finalist in the entrée category. But they told her she needed to find a quick, uniform way to assemble it. She had been wrapping the appetizer-sized pieces one bacon slice at a time. That wouldn’t cut it in a commercial kitchen.
But after a little trial and error, Gilbert found a way to crank out 300 entrées for the final on-air showdown in front of a national audience.
“I thought I was a deer caught in headlights the whole time. It was really intimidating and scary,” says Gilbert, 36. “But I think I’m over my fears of cameras with them pretty much in my face the whole time.”
The final showdown didn’t go as planned. It was to be outdoors with a Caribbean theme but the dancers didn’t show up which frustrated Gilbert. A torrential downpour didn’t help either, although it didn’t dampen her enthusiasm. “It was really exciting, extremely exciting.”
While she made the final two, she lost to Winslow Taylor’s Jammin’ Jamaican Lobster Bisque in the end. One judge said Gilbert’s idea wasn’t innovative enough, describing it as “looking in the rearview mirror.”
“The turkey dinner is so old world,” said judge Vikram Vij. “There’s nothing wrong with it, but cuisines should evolve.”
Taylor won $25,000 and will have his entrée on store shelves across Canada. He also advanced to the overall final. Gilbert got nothing for getting so close.
“That was pretty disappointing. But Winslow’s dish was phenomenal. It really was,” says Gilbert. “When we were in the kitchen the smell was making my mouth water, and he was so nice and so personable.”
Gilbert can continue to make her dish for family and friends but President’s Choice now owns the commercial recipe.
She intends to enter all six of the show’s categories next year.
“I still want to see something of mine in the stores. And I’m a real good cook, from what I hear.”