The 2009 Winner of the LG Electronics / Bon Appetit’s Life Tastes Good Competition
Kristine Snyder Interview featuring her winning Mahi Mahi recipe.
I have been following this cooking contest and am thrilled to have been able to interview the winner, Kristine Snyder, who will be traveling to Thailand to compete in a global cooking event. If you want to read more about the contest, the judges and other competitors, go to Taste of Something Better.
Kristine is from Maui, HI and prepared a Soy-Glazed Mahi Mahi with Cilantro Pesto Shrimp dish that I will share with you in the interview. I would like to thank LG Electronics and Bon Appetit for helping make this interview possible.
So let’s get started by asking how you became involved with the LG Electronics/Bon Appetit Life Tastes Good Cooking Competition?
I am a member of a website called Cooking Contest Central which lists recipe contests and when I read about LG’s fabulous prize packages, I decided to give it a try. I emailed my entry the day before the deadline (I never submit a recipe early because I usually want to change something) and was notified that my recipe was in the top 10. After that, Bon Appetit prepared the 10 recipes and narrowed it down to the 3 finalists (I was on pins and needles during that waiting time!)
Did you think from the start you had a chance of winning the New York competition and be on your way to Thailand to compete in a global cooking cook-off?
Always hopeful but I am realistic which meant having a 33.3% chance of going to Bangkok. I also didn’t know anything about my competition which probably was a good thing since their recipes looked and sounded delicious!
What was your strategy for choosing your recipe for mahi mahi and shrimp flavored with soy, lime and cilantro?
I really didn’t think of it as strategy – I just put together some of my favorite Hawaiian flavors (which also includes ginger, garlic, and Hawaiian Portuguese Sausage). After moving to Hawaii in 1998 I immediately fell in love with the Pacific Rim ingredients and tastes and I cook with them about 80% of the time. I had created a recipe similar to this one for another contest but it wasn’t chosen so I decided to try again. The two lessons here are 1) how difficult it is to get into cooking contests and 2) if you know you have good recipe, stick with it and keep trying!
By the way, do you mind sharing your recipe with all my readers?
You won a complete kitchen makeover with LG Electronic products. How exciting is that? Can you talk a little about how this will inspire your cooking?
What a dream! I have always wanted 2 ovens and a 5-burner cooktop! LG set up a beautiful kitchen at the Bon Appetit Supper Club for the NY cook off and their products were fabulous. Their refrigerator is the nicest I’ve ever seen and the ovens were easy to use and worked perfectly. I found out that the microwave works as a warming oven as well (how clever! ) and the dishwasher cleans with steam. Having these wonderful new appliances will definitely make cooking easier and more fun (it’ll be like having a room full of new toys to play with!).
Are you nervous about going to Thailand to compete?
Of course! I get nervous when cooking for a dinner party so the idea of a global competition is a bit overwhelming! LG’s global contest is being judged differently than the US contest and there are many details that I won’t know until we arrive in Bangkok. I found out the recipes will be judged on being light and healthy as well as taste and we will also be judged on our cooking skills which is very scary since I tend to cut myself in every contest (I’m a professional harpist, not a chef!). We’re also cooking our dishes in LG’s SolarDOM oven which cooks food using light. It’s exciting to be able to use a new high-tech cooking method but it also adds the fear of trying something new.
Let’s talk a little about your culinary background – Where did you learn how to cook?
My mother was a wonderful cook so I grew up loving food and cooking but I learned the most in my 20’s when a few girlfriends invited me to join them in starting a “Bon Appetit Club.” We alternated hosting a monthly dinner, choosing recipes out of Bon Appetit and assigning everyone a recipe to make with an emphasis on trying something new. We had a great time and I learned a lot at as well.
When do you think you really became passionate about food? Or better yet, when do you think you realized it? Was there an “ah ha” moment or was it just part of your nature?
As I mentioned, I’ve always loved food (sometimes too much!) but my “ah ha” moment was in 2001 when I very unexpectedly won $20,000 in Sutter Home’s Build a Better Burger contest by creating a salmon burger. After that win I became much more passionate about cooking and creating my own recipes.
Did you ever have any fears about cooking or trying something new and if so, how did you overcome those fears?
I still have fears that something won’t turn out as I want it to but my main rule is to only try new dishes out on my closest friends and never try more than 1 new recipe at a time. When creating my own recipes, my poor husband is my guinea pig and when I’m working on a contest, we can eat some strange dinners.
Fortunately he’s a good sport and also a good judge of food tastes. When it comes to cooking contests, you can’t overcome the fear of making a mistake but I try to make my recipe as many times as possible beforehand. I think that practicing cooking is just like practicing a musical instrument or training for a sport.
Have you ever thought of going to culinary school to become a professional chef? If so, why didn’t you?
I would love to go to culinary school to learn more about cooking but would never want to become a
professional chef. I like to cook for fun and don’t want to think of it as “work.” I also enjoy not having to follow rules and don’t cook every night since my “real job” requires evening work.
I receive lots of email from home cooks who feel like they are in a “cooking rut” and they prepare the same 5 or 6 “safe” meals week after week. What advice would you offer these frustrated home cooks?
Swap recipes with your friends or try joining an internet recipe exchange. Anytime you think of something you’d like to eat, write it down and then search for a recipe off the internet. Cooking magazines are great too.
To me, there are at least two types of cooking styles and each has its pros and cons. There are those who find a recipe in a great cooking magazine like Bon Appetit, shop for every ingredient and follow the recipe exactly as written. Then there are others who look through their Bon Appetit for ideas and go prepare a unique dish using what they have on hand in their pantry and refrigerator. I was wondering if you have a favorite style of cooking?
Although I don’t condone it as being the best method, I’m unable to follow a recipe exactly as written. I usually add or substitute a different ingredient or two and sometimes I’m just too lazy to measure the ingredients. Fortunately you can get away with a lot of little changes in cooking but that’s not the case in baking. I suppose that’s why I don’t often bake! But my husband hates it when I create a “throw together everything in the refrigerator” dish because when it turns out well he knows I’ll never be able to make it exactly like that again.
What are your favorite ingredients to cook with, why and can you give us an example of how you cook with them?
Garlic and ginger are my favorites because they enhance and brighten anything they’re added to. Plus, they are great for your health! I put garlic and ginger in stir-fries, sauteed veggies, soups (makes a fabulous Asian chicken noodle soup), meat, fish, and chicken marinades, coconut curries, rice dishes, and just about everything else I cook! I also love using citrus (lemon or lime), cilantro, and soy sauce or fish sauce (I consider them sort of a complex-tasting salt).
What 5 cookbooks would you recommend every home cook own?
Personally, I utilize the internet for recipes and ideas more often than cookbooks because of the multiple sources available with the search engines but I also like to create my own cookbooks and files with recipes I’ve cut out of magazines or printed off the internet.
What are the top 5 cooking tips or suggestions you would give a novice cook?
1. Make cooking fun! Try fun-sounding recipes or try to make something you’ve always wanted to eat.
2. Don’t try something too difficult. Learning takes patience so start slowly and remember, great recipes don’t have to be complicated.
3. Use good quality, fresh ingredients – yes, it matters!
4. Don’t try new recipes out on guests unless they’re VERY close friends and make dinner parties a
combined effort – assign friends or family members to bring a dish.
5. Practice makes perfect. Mistakes will still happen but the more cooking you do, the fewer mistakes you’ll make. Soon you’ll be a great cook!
Thank you so much for this interview and good luck in Thailand.