Q: After the clock hit 0:00 at the Grand Finale, how did you feel about your dish that you would be presenting to the judges?
A: I was very happy with the way that I executed my dish (and that I finished on time!), BUT I knew that I was up against some very stiff competition with creative, flavorful recipes, so I had no idea as to where I would end up in the rankings.
Q: How did you feel when host, Bradley Hasemeyer, said your name and announced you as the Game Day Chef Challenge Champion?
A: Before Bradley made the announcements, I had the chance to try all of the competitors’ dishes….and they were ALL really delicious. Everyone definitely brought his or her “A Game” to the cook-off! With this in mind, I felt a combination of post-competition nerves and pride to be standing on the stage with such a talented group of finalists. The First Runner-Up, Merry Graham, is a friend who has won dozens of cooking competitions, so it was an honor to take the top two spots with her.
Q: Do you have any special plans to celebrate your winnings?
A: Well, I’m sure that I will be making dozens of Southwestern Scrimmage Burgers for my family and friends in the near future, so I should probably head to Chevron and stock up on Chili Cheese Fritos, Blue Diamond Almonds, Tapatio, honey, orange juice and cheese!!
Regarding the gift cards, I want to “pay it forward” with a portion on them by donating to a local charity. We have a great segment on our local Fox news station called “The Surprise Squad,” during which their anchors surprise local people in need, who have been nominated by the community. I plan to reach out to them to see if there are some good matches for the Chevron cards. Also, my family travels from Las Vegas to Jackson, Wyoming several times each year, a 10-1/2 hour drive. There are Chevrons all along the way, so those cards will definitely come in handy!
Q: What surprised you most about Chevron’s convenience store offering?
A: I was surprised by the variety of products offered by many of the Chevrons that I visited. I was expecting to find items like soda, chips, jerky, candy, etc., but I ended up finding things like cheese, eggs, produce, meat and every condiment under the sun!
Q: Outside of winning the Grand Prize, what was the most memorable experience you had in the Game Day Chef Challenge this season?
A: I loved cooking in front of the large crowds that gathered at each of the “fan fest” areas before the Cardinals-Bengals game and the Rose Bowl. They really brought great energy. It was like having my own personal cheering squad.
I also loved that my husband was able to come with me to both cook-offs and attend both of the games with me. We have a young daughter at home, so they were fun mini-vacations for us. He rarely has the chance to attend any of my cooking competitions so it was great to see his face in the crowd. Meeting our judges, The Bachelor (Chris Soules), the “Old Spice Guy” (Isaiah Mustafa) and the L.A. Times Food Editor (Amy Scattergood), was another highlight. Clearly, there was no shortage of memorable experiences!!
Q: What was most challenging about cooking your dish in the Game Day Chef Challenge set?
A: Cooks are so used to the layouts and “personalities” of their own kitchens, that it always throws you off a bit when you are cooking with unfamiliar appliances in a smaller space. You really have to be organized, flexible, agile, and mentally prepared (just like a quarterback!) for anything that is different from what you have at home.
One thing that I did to prepare for this was to find out exactly what kind of blender we would be provided with for the cook-off. I then used my Visa gift card (part of the Regional Finalist prize package) to purchase the same blender since it wasn’t too expensive, as it was a key appliance for me. I wanted to be familiar with how the blender worked and its capabilities by practicing with it at home.
Q: What would you do differently about how you prepared your dish, if anything?
A: I think that I would have been slightly less-generous with the cheese on top of the burger patties. Because of the amount that I used, it took a bit longer to melt, causing the burgers to cook longer than I would have ideally liked. Fortunately, the beef blend that I used for the burgers kept them nice and juicy despite the longer cooking time.
Q: Would you choose a different recipe if you were to enter a contest like this again?
A: Absolutely not!! This recipe earned me the title of Chevron Game Day Chef Champion, so I wouldn’t change a thing!!
Q: Before this competition, what did you think of as a “game day” dish?
A: Flavorful comfort foods that feed a crowd and that you can eat with your hands.
Q: What advice would you give someone entering this contest next season?
A: Visit several different Chevron convenience stores in your area, as different stores carry different items. Really take some time and look at every aisle, as you never know what will inspire a winning recipe (mine was initially inspired when I saw the Blue Diamond Jalapeno Smokehouse Almonds.) If you already have an idea for a recipe in mind before you head to Chevron, look for items that might be good substitutes for other ingredients and that will make your recipe stand out among the competition.
Q: What’s next for you? What other cooking competitions are you entering in 2016?
A: Well, this competition is going to be hard to top! I enjoy competing, so I will definitely keep my eyes and ears open for new cook-offs to enter over the course of the year. Last year, I was so busy with a newborn that I didn’t have time for much else….including sleep! In 2016, I would love to pursue working in the culinary world in some capacity, whether that involves collaborating with brands to create recipes and content, working on my blog (Peanut Butter and Julie), or starting my own venture.