After relaxing in my room, I received the call that it was my time to cook. This competition was a little different than what you might see on other food competition shows. We were to cook our recipes the night before, off-camera, which I was worried about.
I had all my ingredients so I was good to go: Johnsonville’s Hot Italian Sausage, Bisquick, Baker String Cheese, Spice Island Garlic Powder, Sweet Baby Ray’s Original BBQ Sauce, Inglehoffer Honey Mustard, marinara sauce, and eggs.
I cooked my recipe as if I were tailgating, so I started to heat my pot of oil while I prepared my Spicy Touchdown Sausage Stuffed Bites.
After a little over an hour, my dish was done and the production crew and I prepped the kitchen for the next competitor, Mason Partak.
The next day, our production day started at noon. I arrived on set during their lunch break. I was so nervous, there was no way I could eat anything. I got my hair and makeup done. I had not had so much makeup on since my wedding 16 years ago. I felt bad for the makeup artist since I was nervous and she had to keep powdering me. They were ready on the set and now you can watch what happens.
Behind the sliding door, my heart was pounding as I waited for the door to open to reveal Johnsonville’s The Sausage Dome and stand before The Sausage Six. Huge props to the production crew. The set was amazing!
I had memorized a story to tell the judges about my dish, but with all the lights and cameras around, I just about lost it. I am a shy person by nature and it really took all of my courage to talk in front people I had never met before (just seen them on Johnsonville’s website and commercials). But, I love how the judges knew how nervous I was and stepped in by just asking me questions about the dish. It made me feel more comfortable and they could learn more about the dish in a more organic manner.
The recipe is inspired by my hubby. He is half Italian and for the last twenty years, I was honored to be around his family during holiday feasts. All the dinners were Italian, made by his grandma. She had an amazing sauce and it graced many dishes from meatballs, lasagna, spaghetti, and more. And she was an accomplished baker making huge cupcakes, cream puffs, and an assortment of cookies for Christmas. I love Johnsonville’s Italian Sausage and wanted to incorporate this into a bite-size game dish. The hubby and I like it spicy but you can also make this with the mild version as well. I wanted to make something portable that could be made whether you are in the kitchen or tailgating. I did a play on arancini (risotto ball stuffed with cheese or other filling and deep-fried) using the sausage to encase gooey Wisconsin string cheese.
The next competitor on stage was Chef Aron Habiger. He is originally from Washington and made a name for himself in Orange County, CA at The Crosby and The North Left before becoming Chef de Cuisine at Petit Trois under Chef Ludo Lefebvre. He is now creating a series of pop up dinners called “on the lam”, a nomadic dining experience that captures the earthy, mystical landscape of the Pacific Northwest. He presented Football Calzones to the judges.
The third competitor was Mason Partak. This amazing young man is only 13 years old and has a passion for cooking. He has been baking with his mom since he was 2 years old. Mason can not only make an awesome dish from a recipe, he also has culinary creative skills to develop recipes. He has been making tutorial videos to introduce other kids to kitchen tools, how to use them, and empowering other kids that cooking can be fun by taking any fears of cooking away. Mason is also a Season 1 Chopped Junior Champion. He marched out like a pro when the door to The Sausage Dome opened and presented Quarterback Sneak Mandarin Mustard Brats.
We all waited patiently with jittery energy while the judges deliberated. As a professional food judge, I absolutely know what they were going through. From presentation, taste, and how the Johnsonville sausage was utilized in the dish, it can be a nerve racking experience especially since all three entries were totally different. As a first-time competitor, I was just glad to have been given the opportunity to compete. I knew for sure that Aron or Mason were going to take it since I was the newbie competitor.
As we walked back into The Sausage Dome to await our fate, my heart started to pound in my chest like I ran a marathon. I put my shaky hand on the top of my dome and waited as Jarrod counted “1, 2, 3!” and found a pile of summer sausage under my dome. I yelled out, “Oh my god!” and started to tear up. It just felt like a dream, but no one was pinching me to wake up. I became The Sausage Dome Champion decorated with a “lei” of summer sausage!
A BIG MAHALO to Johnsonville for this amazing honor! It is so awesome that my recipe will live on in the Big Game Binder! Johnsonville No Ka Oi!