Bellingham cook falls just short of Pillsbury Bake-Off prize

A Bellingham home cook’s tasty twist on the Cuban sandwich just couldn’t beat out America’s sweet tooth in the 47th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.

The $1 million top prize went to Beth Royals of Richmond, Va., for her Peanutty Pie Crust Clusters. The winner was announced Wednesday, Dec. 3, on TV’s “The Chew.”

That recipe beat out Bellingham cook Courtney Sawyer, who was one of four finalists, and her Cuban-Style Sandwich Pockets.

Still, Sawyer won $10,000 and $3,000 in GE kitchen appliances. She also got trips to Nashville and New York during the competition and met celebrity chefs, including Carla Hall.

“They’re all so wonderful,” Hall said of the contestants before the winner was announced. Hall also hosted the Nashville competition, where 100 chefs were narrowed to the four finalists.

“The Chew” co-host Michael Symon, possibly best known as an Iron Chef, noted how remarkable it is for everyday cooks to be competing for $1 million. He said he was more nervous than the contestants waiting backstage.

During “The Chew” segments on the contest, each cook presented their dish with a chef from the show. Famed chef Mario Batali stood next to Sawyer as she talked about her recipe.

“Two porks, Symon, two porks,” he said of the sandwich ingredients, teasing Symon, who is so crazy about pork that he even has a tattoo of it on his chest. Sawyer’s recipe uses both ground pork and deli ham.

Sawyer was featured in The Bellingham Herald right after making the finals and again in the last week before online voting ended Tuesday.

Recipes in the contest are limited to seven ingredients (minus salt, black pepper, water, cooking spray or flour to minimize sticking to a pan), take less than 30 minutes to prepare and contain at least two products from Pillsbury and/or its partner brands.

For the first time since the contest began in 1949, the public weighed in with votes that counted for 45 percent of the total score. Judges’ scoring made up the other 55 percent.

Dishes were judged on appearance, taste and creativity — staples in food competitions— along with consumer appeal.

Check out Sawyer’s recipe by going to Pillsbury.com and searching for “Cuban.”