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Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens! Thanks to marketing know-how the venerable Pillsbury Bake-Off® is the most prestigious cooking contest in America, and carries the richest purse -- a cool million dollars. But as journalist Amy Sutherland describes, the Holy Grail of cooking contests isn't just about the money.
Welcome to the wacky world of cookoffs, where Americans "cross spatulas" at more than 1,000 such events a year. The contests draw intense competitors, but the star entrants are the "contesters." These professional amateurs travel the cooking circuit entering scores of recipes, studying past winners and trends, monitoring chat rooms, and even resorting to mind games in an effort to get a leg up on the competition. Like the participants, each contest has a personality all its own. National Beef, for example, keeps an eye out for "commie enviros." But the truly zany chili cookoffs offer a beer-drinking goat, little old ladies who drink men under the table, and a judge who refuses to vote, declaring his tongue "ruint" by the proceedings.
Chronicling the triumphs and defeats of the women (and men) who inhabit this quirky world, Cookoff is as much about the entrants as it is about the food itself. Chockful of wit and aplomb, Sutherland's book, a wholly addictive page-turner, is worthy of a blue ribbon. (Fall 2003 Selection)