By John Wilder

The food channel is a ratings juggernaut.  Their stars have achieved a level of fame that they are known by their first names only.  Giada, Paula and Rachel et al.

 This indicates a modern day Renaissance in the cooking arts.  Sponsors are quick to react to this and sponsor cooking contests with big money prizes to attract attention to their product lines.  They have a ready participant and a free advertising forum with international ties in the contest information site called:  Cooking Contest Central owned by Betty Parham.

In an interview with her, this author repeatedly tried to tie Ms. Parham down as to how many members she had.  She consistently side stepped the question.  She did allow that her site currently averages 40,000 visitors per week.  Since her site is a fee paid membership site, one can only conjecture as to the total members she has.  One can do the math at $25 per year for the membership.  This is an issue that her members clearly don’t have a problem with.  They view it as a bargain for the services that they receive plus the value added things like online forums where people of like interest can chat with each other.  Ms. Parham takes pride in the fact that many of her members have been with her since the sites inception 13 years ago before there was a Food Channel.  She also notes that her site features over a 1/3 of the Pillsbury Cook-off winners.

I got to interview a couple of her members, a newbie to the contesting world and a more seasoned one with almost 6 years experience.  Michaela Rosenthal is the more seasoned contester with a lot of wins under her belt.  She prefers to enter the contests that feature all expense paid vacations.  She claims to have won at least 3 per year since the beginning of her contest career.  She has also won over $30,000 dollars as well.  I have included some of her wins below.

From Food Network: January 2009 Ultimate Recipe Showdown – Comfort Foods
 ~ Cream of Parsnip Soup with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
~ Apple-Date Fritters with Lemon Curd Cream and Candied Ginger

From Everyday With Rachael Ray: 2006 Stuffing Contest Winner
~ Black-Eyed Pea and Cornbread Stuffing

From the National Pork Board: “America’s Favorite Family Recipes Contest”
~ Pork Schnitzel with Lemon-Caper Cream

From Bertolli Olive Oil: “What’s Your Med Style” Contest
~ Feta Lamb Burgers

From Thai Kitchen: February 2006 Recipe of the Month Winner
~ Thai-Exotic Coconut And Pineapple Bread Pudding

Jennifer Tidwell is the newbie, young, stay at home mom and housewife.  She has just this year won a $1,000 prize from a medium contest for her cheesecake recipe and another $600 prize.  She aspires to be a personal chef and a cookbook writer.  She has connections in the publishing world as well as a professional photographer as a friend who will give her a leg up into the publishing world.

The bottom line is… there is real money to be made in competitive cooking contests.  If you are out of work, you could dust up some favorite recipes and enter them.  The contests are all free to enter.  You have to cook and eat anyway.  Ms. Parham says that they have had first time contesters win big first place prizes on their first try.  Ms. Parham also notes that there are a lot of men on her website as well, one of which is a finalist in this years Pillsbury Bakeoff. Who knows, maybe you could be  the next food network star?  You can’t win if you don’t enter, is Ms. Tidwell’s mantra.