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This Year’s $1 Million Pillsbury Bake-Off Features Many Pacific Northwesterners

Cindy poses with her dish. Photo by Rachel Belle.

The Pillsbury Bake-Off is the mother of all cooking contests.

“This is like the Olympics of cooking contests. This is like the biggest cooking contest in the world!”

That’s Cindy Tobek, an Olympia elementary school teacher whose recipe was one of 60 chosen out of thousands to compete in the Pillsbury Bake-Off semi-finals.

“It’s an American institution. It’s been going on since 1949. The grand prize is a whopping $1 million. I could really use that.”

A giant pumpkin grower, who competes at the Puyallup Fair, Cindy was about ready to give up on the Bake-Off.

“I’ve been entering the Pillsbury Bake-Off for the past 12 years. My grandma’s been entering it since the 1950’s, but neither one of us have gotten a call.”

Until this year.

“I came up with a recipe called Chicken and Veggie Pesto Pastries.”

The name is almost longer than the ingredient list.

“It was really different this year. They made it so you had to use seven ingredients or less. It had to be under 30 minutes prep time. So that really put some big constraints on people.”

The dishes must also include two products made by Pillsbury or one of it’s sponsors. Cindy’s Chicken and Veggie Pesto Pastry dish looks like a calzone.

“It’s a Pillsbury pie crust, a half a cup of prepared, refrigerated basil pesto, two boxes of Green Giant frozen broccoli, carrot and sweet pepper medley, four tablespoons of Asiago cheese, some rotisserie chicken and some cream cheese.”

With access to only seven ingredients, Cindy couldn’t make her own pesto or pie crust, and I find it interesting that the world’s biggest cooking contest requires so many processed, pre-made foods. Which doesn’t mean that Cindy’s dish wasn’t tasty. It needed to be because there was a lot of local competition this year.

“Usually there is only one, maybe two, people from the Pacific Northwest. There are seven people from Washington and Oregon. We are dominating the Pillsbury Bake Off scene right now.”

Through March 28, people can go to and vote for their favorite dish. The top scoring 33 recipes will go on to compete at the $1 million prize event in Vegas.

Unfortunately, Cindy will not be among them. I learned Monday that Cindy was disqualified from the contest for using a banned website to try and collect more votes. She had no idea it was against the rules, and another contestant was disqualified for the same reason.

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