Tuesday 15 June 2010

Cooking up a winner

I’m not just a comper, I’m also a fully fledged foodie, and my love of both food and comping has led to some wonderful prizes from gadgets to gift vouchers, hampers to holidays and even a fitted kitchen. You don’t have to be a gourmet cook or trained chef to enter a recipe competition, just practise a few basic techniques and learn how to choose the right dish for the right competition.

When you are thinking of entering a recipe competition, the first thing to do is check whether you will be required to cook your dish for the judges. If this would really be too much for you, then wait for another competition – you don’t want to be disqualified at the final hurdle! But it really isn’t too terrifying – after all, the other finalists will be as nervous as you are. Finals are often held in catering schools where all the equipment is Brobdignagian in size, so even if the next entrant is a more skilled cook than you, he or she will still be struggling with a knife a yard long and a blender big enough to make soup for 50.

Now start to think about what kind of dish would suit the competition. Look at the promoter and the prize and make sure that any ingredient being promoted is the essential feature of your dish, the one thing it wouldn’t work without. Is it a convenience food? Then your recipe should be quick and easy or there is no point including a convenience food. Is it in a very trendy magazine? Then try to include some fashionable ingredients or make a dish that can be served in the latest style. If the competition is in a slimming magazine, make sure your dish fits in with the diet promoted by the mag – they all vary but the details will be available somewhere. Is the prize a holiday? Then take your inspiration from the food of the country the winner will visit, but don’t feel obliged to make an authentic dish. If you are asked to match a dish with a wine, look at the description on the bottle. Does it mention honey? Apples? Cinnamon? whatever is mentioned, try to bring it into your dish.(Note : I don’t advise you to try this with the often mentioned wine flavours of leather, tobacco and compost!)

Having thought of these aspect, you are ready to create your recipe. Now you must remember that although your recipe MUST be original and not copied, very little is new in the food world – unless you are an exponent of molecular gastronomy, new dishes invariably have evolved from old, traditional or ethnic ones. So take a favourite dish that you can already cook well and start to change the ingredients one at a time. Does it use stock? Try changing it for milk, wine, beer – or even a tin of soup! Swap the protein round – meat for chicken, pulses for Quorn, but try to keep to things of a similar texture and cooking time if you are new to writing recipes. Vegetables, too, can be swapped, herbs and spices changed until you have a completely new recipe that started out as an old friend. Once I started with a Thai recipe and ended up with an Italian-style one – and it won a recipe book. It would be best to test it after every change, but I know you won’t do that – life is too short! But do test your finished dish, serve it to friends or family and ask them for ideas for finishing touches or accompaniments. Don’t ever let yourself be put in the position I was once, where I had two days’ notice that I was in the final cook off and I had never tried my recipe – the family got very tired of the same dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I won!

Some current recipe competitions you might like to try are:

The Evening Standard Send in your barbecue sauce recipe for a chance to win an exclusive meal at Wheeler's and a barbecue. Closing 09 Jul

Morrisons and the Daily Telegraph are looking for the Best of British recipes. There is a weekly prize of £150 until the final closing date of 28 Aug and an overall prize of £5,000.

My Dish create a recipe containing Maltesers for a chance to win a Kitchenaid Mixer closing 31 Jul.

BBC Good Food create a recipe that would be an ideal partner for Carte D'Or Strawberry & Yoghurt Delice for a chance towin a gourmet cookery class.Closing 06 Jul.

Great British Chicken monthly chicken recipe competition with a prize of £100 worth of Marks & Spencers vouchers.

Hellmann's have a barbecue party to be won every week until 12 Sep. Send in a recipe for a barbecuedish using Hellmann's mayonnaise.

Onken Yoghurt create a recipe using Onken Natural Set yoghurt for a chance to win a cookery sessionwith Ainsley Harriott. Closing 31 Jul.

SPAM Cook of the Year send in a recipe using SPAM® to win a weekend break with a dish inspired by yours on the hotel menu, with two more breaks for runnersup. Closing 31 Aug.


  1. Thanks for this post Jane - recipe competitions are something I haven't quite got to grips with yet - I've entered a couple but no wins! Would love to know what the dishes are in your photos too!

  2. The first one is Balinese Spam, which I created for the Spam Cook of The Year comp a couple of years ago, the second is Roast rack of lamb with a tomato and raisin relish, souffléed potato patties and a warm French Bban vinaigrette which was my entry in the comp run by the AA last year, and the third wasn't for a comp at all. It's my attempt to copy authentic Grasmere Gingerbread in memory of my dear friend Adrian who died almost a year ago. His brother wanted to include the recipe in a newspaper article he was writing inhis memory, andobviously the Real Thing is a closely guarded secret. My version wad good - but not as goodas the genuine article.

  3. Fantastic advice, thanks Jane. I was delighted to win the Casiliero de Diablo online recipe comp recently, and will be having my gourmet overnighter next weekend. We will be cooking, but our own recipes.


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