DOUGHBOY OBSESSION – PART 4
In between stuffing my face full of donut holes and gulps of Dr. Pepper, I dumped out my Bake-Off tote bag full of goodies. I’m all about free stuff so this was like Christmas! Inside the bag (or the welcome packet) was a copy of the official 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off recipe book. I flipped through the pages until I found my recipe. There it was on page 13 in all of it’s waffly, French toasty glory.
In the midst of my goody bag chaos and fawning over my recipe photo, I realized that I hadn’t checked my phone for messages. I picked it up to find that I had a voicemail. It was from one of the Bake Off staff inviting me to take part in a group photo. They were lumping finalists together based on hobbies and interests that they had mentioned in their questionnaire. This is where my questionnaire answers came back to bite me. In the midst of my trying to be funny while being honest in my answers, I mentioned that I was a “sporadic runner. I run approximately 6 months out of the year.” While that was true, I had run numerous 5ks and 2 half marathons, that was a while ago. Every now and then I would get motivated to start running again but never stuck it out. I certainly didn’t consider myself a serious runner. The lady on my voicemail wanted me to be a part of the “marathoners photo.” I kinda had a feeling that my frumpy self was gonna stick out like a sore thumb against these serious marathoners. Needless to say, I skipped the photo op. Who knows where that pic would show up and I didn’t want to be the chubby wannabe runner that totally didn’t belong.
Mom and I made our way to the Bake Off floor for orientation. As I stepped off the escalator in front of Bake-Off central, I got my first glimpse of most of the finalists. While I recognized a lot of the faces from my internet stalking prior to the trip, my mind registered the faces as names of recipes. “Hey! There’s German Chocolate Donuts!” “It’s Green Goddess Chicken Wellington!” “Ooh….There’s Malted Milk Ball Peanut Butter Cream Squares!” Eventually, a familiar face stepped off the escalator . It was one of my fellow Arkansas finalists, April Timboe. Yay! Somebody I could talk to! I introduced myself and we chatted until the doors opened to the orientation room which also happened to be the room where the Bake-Off would take place. As I walked toward the doors, I noticed the other Arkansas finalist, Wendy Wiseman, and made my way to her. (I had reached out to both Wendy and April prior to the Bake-Off in hopes of having somebody I could connect with while there.) I introduced myself to Wendy and we made our way into the orientation area.
If I could insert some music here to help set the mood, I would. Maybe some Chariots of Fire would be fitting. I had seen pictures and videos of the Bake Off floor online, but it is truly something that can’t be translated to film or print. It’s like taking pictures of fireworks or sunsets. Let’s face it…it’s just not the same as seeing it in person.
We made our way to our seats which were set up in a roped off area of the room where family and friends would be watching the event the next morning. As the room filled up I looked around and reality hit me. 100 people is a lot of people! A 1 in 100 chance at a million dollars is good odds, at least it sounds that way when you talk about it. But, seeing it is a whole different story. It makes you realize what a huge deal it is to win this thing.
The meeting opened with my elevator buddy Jann Atkins briefing us on the event, covering all the rules that I already knew by heart. She was followed by the event coordinator who gave us even more info. We were introduced to Pillsbury’s attorney and head of security. No bases were left uncovered. We were also introduced to our runners, the folks that would be there to help us with any questions we might have or get our items from the fridge, etc. Each runner was assigned to 4 finalists. We would also have a member of the test kitchen staff to assist us, if needed. I think there was one test kitchen staff member to every 10 finalist.
One huge mystery about this year’s contest was who was going to be the host. The Bake Off is known for having celebrity hosts and for the awards ceremony to be televised, but nobody had heard a peep about who was going to be hosting this year. At the end of the orientation, the Bake Off head honcho (for the life of me I can’t remember her name) said something like this:
“And now, for the announcement you’ve all been waiting for, the host of this year’s Bake Off is……Padma Lakshmi!”
I heard one tiny squeal of delight then crickets chirping. Several of the finalists were looking at each other and whispering. I sort of knew who Padma was, but knew nothing about her. Finally someone spoke up and asked “Who is she?”. You know, I felt bad for the Bake Off folks that the finalists weren’t more excited. But, after having Martha Stewart host the previous year it was a tad bit of a let down…at least until I got back to my hotel room and Googled her. OH! That’s Padma!
After the orientation, a long rack full of freshly ironed and starched aprons was rolled in. We were instructed to each get an apron and gather on the other side of the ball room for the official 46th Pillsbury Bake Off photo. As I was tying my apron I saw him….Poppin’ Fresh in the flesh, and boy was he cute!
It had been a crazy long day. We had time to get back to our room, which was a good 10 minute walk across the hotel, and freshen up before dinner. I won’t go into all the dinner details, but it was delicious and absolutely beautiful. After dinner, we went back to our room for the night with hopes of getting some sleep, yet knowing that I would be up all night strategizing and planning. While I felt like I didn’t stand a chance at the money, I also wanted to have no regrets. I wanted to give this thing 100%. I laid in bed going over the questions that had been haunting me ever since finding out I was a finalist. How am I going to plate my dish? When is the right time to take my food to the judges? Is there an advantage to taking your dish in first? Or, do I want to be one of the last? In all of the reading and researching I had done I had found no clear answer, yet this question was enough to drive me batty.