HARRISBURG - Bethany Hoffman didn't think she had a chance to win Friday's statewide vegetable recipe contest.
In fact, her mother, Teresa, said the 23-year-old thought she had already figured out who the winner would be before the two even traveled from their Richfield home to the 2009 "Simply Delicious, Simply Nutritious" Vegetable Recipe Cook-Off at Harrisburg Area Community College.
Hoffman's hopes were really dashed when William Troxell, of the Pennsylvania Vegetable Marketing and Research Program, prefaced his announcement of the winner of the Sweet Corn and Onion category with the remark, "This is one of the rare instances in which we had a perfect score. She got a '5' from all four judges."
Sentinel photos by BUFFIE BOYER
Bethany Hoffman, of Richfield, receives a first place award from Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Michael Pechart, after judges gave her recipe for Grilled Sweet Corn Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette a perfect score.
When he stated the name of the winning recipe - Grilled Sweet Corn Salad with Honey Lime Vinaigrette - Hoffman's jaw dropped, her eyes popped wide open and a huge smile lit up her face.
"When they said there was a perfect score, I thought, 'That's not mine,'" Hoffman admitted after receiving her award - a plaque and a $100 bill from Michael Pechart, Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.
But it was her recipe, one that she had adapted to her liking and made with vegetables grown in her own garden.
Despite her doubts, Hoffman is no stranger to winning - in 2006, she was named the Juniata County Fair Queen, and last year she won first place in the fair's Hershey cake contest with her Sinister Dark Chocolate Cake recipe.
Hoffman is a 2004 graduate of East Juniata High School and 2006 graduate of Penn College, with a degree in surgical technology. She works at Grandview Surgery Center in Camp Hill because, she said, she always wanted a career in the health field.
But, when pressed, she admitted that she also might like to own her own restaurant some day.
"I just love cooking," she said while slicing limes in a corner of the kitchen in the Olewine Center for Culinary Arts at HACC, which hosted the cook-off. She was surrounded by women at other stations who also were preparing their dishes for presentation to the judges.
Hoffman said she began cooking as a child and learned from her mother. "Ever since I was old enough, she let me in the kitchen. She never held me back. She let me try new things."
Hoffman cooks a lot on weekends for her family and boyfriend, and said she prefers baking. "I love to bake. That's how I got started. I love cooking things that seem fancy, but really aren't. I like to make things that are accessible to the home cook."
She entered the vegetable contest after seeing an article about it on the Food page in The Sentinel. "I thought it would be a great way to share my love of cooking with other people," she said.
Hoffman was among 16 finalists - four in each of four categories - selected to attend the cook-off. The four judges reviewed 106 written entries from 41 contestants across the state. Finalists were chosen on the basis of creativity, nutrition/healthfulness, ease of preparation and overall appeal.
Hoffman said she was "really surprised to be selected because this was my first time I had entered."
Several other contestants were previous winners, and some were finalists in more than one category.
Hoffman's recipe is "my take on an existing recipe," she said. "The idea of a black bean and corn salad is not really new, but I added fresh herbs, lime and a touch of honey to accentuate the sweetness of the bell peppers."
Those peppers, as well as the jalapeno pepper found in her recipe, are products of Hoffman's own garden.
"I have my own garden outside my house. It's really small, but I think you can get a lot of things from a small garden. It's the perfect time of year to make this (her corn salad recipe), because it's easy to get the vegetables - the bell peppers and the sweet corn are in season," she said.
It was the sweet corn, and the fact that it was grilled, that convinced the judges to give Hoffman's dish the perfect score.
"That grilled corn looks wonderful," said Lou Ann Good, retired Food and Family Features Editor for Lancaster Farming, as she scooped up a spoonful and put it on her plate during the judging.
After sampling the salad, which Hoffman served with tortilla chips and lime slices, all of the judges agreed and awarded the perfect score.
According to their scoring sheets, the judges found Hoffman's dish to have the "best color presentation by far ... iridescent colors," as well as "very good flavor combinations." The judges also appreciated that the recipe was "simple to make," was "attractive" and contained a "nice variety of vegetables."
But they really loved the grilled corn- which one judge called "an awesome flavor addition."