Leite’s Culinaria Recipe Tester Competing at The World Food Championships

Leite’s Culinaria testers are a diverse bunch with one thing in common–food. This year, one of our culinary geniuses is taking part in the World Food Championships taking place in Dallas, Texas, in November 2021. Read on to find out all about her prep and plans. 

Pam Kemp

[Editor—Over the weekend of November 5th to 9th, 2021, one of our recipe testers, Pam Kemp, participated in the World Food Championship in Dallas Texas. The original story follows the update for the post.]Participating in one of the first competitions of the weekend, Kemp entered a mushroom and bacon appetizer, described as “a roasted mushroom with a savory filling made of 2 different cheeses, smoked bacon, fresh breadcrumbs, and onion, presented on a delicate waffled bacon & parmesan cheese crisp for additional smoky flavor and crisp texture.” This entry earned her a seventh-place ranking out of the 26 competitors.

For her second entry of the day, the signature challenge, she entered a bacon cannoli. Sounds amazing, right? Described as “two of my favorite desserts, Baklava and Cannoli, are the inspiration for this unique dessert I have titled ‘Bakla-Noli’.  A crispy phyllo shell, with layers of ground bacon and nuts, encircles a creamy ricotta filling studded with candied bacon and chocolate chips. As tradition goes with Cannoli, the ends are dipped–in this case, with pistachios, candied bacon, and mini chocolate chips.” As good as that sounds, it, unfortunately, didn’t do as well as the mushroom and placed last. The combination of scores placed her in 22nd place in her group, just one space behind last year’s Bacon Champion. The scores were all so close across the board that if Kemp had scored just five more points, she would have made the top 10.

Kemp admits that no matter how it turned out, it was a great experience. Immediately after finishing her event, she went on to judge the Barbecue category because she had also previously qualified as a WFC judge. On top of all the work she was doing at the competition, she acted as sous-chef for another competitor in the Dessert category. For a first attempt, we think Pam Kemp did an incredible job and we’re so pleased to have her on our team. We look forward to following her progress in upcoming WFC events. Congratulations, Pam!

In this month of thanks, one of the things we’re most grateful for at Leite’s Culinaria is our many, many brilliant volunteer testers. They’re the reason why you can try any recipe and know it will work–they tirelessly test everything that appears on the site. Not only do they love food, but they also know food. Some of them really know food. Pam Kemp, an LC Recipe Tester since June 2020, is a 2021 competitor in The World Food Championships and we couldn’t be more proud. 

You may already know about The World Food Championships (WFC) if you’re into eating like we’re into eating. The WFC is the highest stakes food competition in the world, billing itself as the “ultimate food fight experience” and showcases some of the world’s best cooks. Competing for a share of $300,000 in prize money, more than 450 culinary teams from 11 countries and 42 American states will take part in WFC’s 2021 Main Event. Those teams are divided into 10 categories: Bacon, Barbecue, Burger, Chef, Dessert, Recipe, Sandwich, Seafood, Soup, and Steak. Each of the 10 Category Champs then goes head-to-head in a third round to determine this year’s World Food Champion.

Gnudi and polenta appetizer--Pam Kemp
: Pam Kemp

Kemp is an entrant in the Bacon category and is headed to Fair Park’s Centennial Hall in Dallas to compete during the first week of November. In March of this year, she competed in the preliminary round for entry in the “Taste of America” qualifying event (because of COVID, everything was judged online). Her qualifying entry (shown above) was gnudi with polenta and tomato pesto, called Nudes on Pillows. In April, she found out the gnudi had placed her 20th of 30 contestants and that she’d be going to the second round of competition in Dallas, requiring her to produce two new recipes. After qualifying, Kemp was given the choice of four categories and chose bacon.

A background in candy-making was the reason that Kemp settled on bacon, she hopes that using some of her sweet techniques will make her a standout among the other competitors. Speaking from her home in Chicago, Kemp explained that she, “feels like the underdog because I’m not a food professional. I’ll be so happy if I even make the top 10.” She’s bolstered by acclaim from family and friends for her candy, cookie, and pastry creations. To date, her accomplishments include winning ribbons in multiple county fairs, including Grand Champion ribbons, so she’s no stranger to cooking as sport. 

With a full-time job in IT Project Management, Kemp is a firm believer that you have a job to pay the bills, but you also need to do something to fuel your passion. And she’s found her passion in cooking. An accomplished home chef and self-proclaimed “foodie,” Kemp has studied worldwide under famous chefs as well as talented home cooks. She’s recently started donating baked goods at her local Loyal Moose Lodge and anticipates she’ll be busy with them after the competition, now that she’s an official member of Women of the Moose.

Teaching cooking classes at a local community college and sharing her skills during charity events has helped her follow her culinary dreams. Kemp started cooking with her grandmothers at an early age, learning family recipes by standing on a stool in the kitchen. Her inspiration came from many sources, including Julia Child, who she named her hot pink charcoal grill after. As a way to highlight women who work and still manage a culinary hobby, her team name Queen Bee Culinary represents the non-stop work that she’s put into this competition. 

2021 WFC Tournament Chart

Competing against 29 other teams in the bacon category, Kemp has had to do an enormous amount of research into what bacon she’s going to use. After months of product sampling, she thinks that she’s become a connoisseur of bacon. “And everyone wants to help test! The comments aren’t always helpful. Mostly, people just want to eat bacon,” she said when asked about choosing what to use in the contest. Her bacon of choice is smoked and processed without water, adding that “uncured bacon also retains more flavor.”

Contestants are required to use bacon from Beeler’s Pork (a sponsor of the WFC) in one of their recipes, and she’s chosen their Uncured Hickory Smoked for her hors d’oeuvre entry. For her signature dish, she’s free to use the bacon of her choice. She’s chosen Nueske’s Uncured Cherry Wood, because of the sweetness, excellent flavor, and the way that it will retain its shape when cooked. She’s also bringing her favorite ricotta cheese from a Chicago supplier. While the WFC has a basic pantry and kitchen setup, teams are expected to supply most ingredients and equipment on their own. 

Beeler's pork chops and fries with the headline "pigheaded since 1846."

The judging is broken down into three components–execution 35%, appearance 15%, and taste 50%–and Kemp has had to focus on more than just the taste. Trends in food, plating, and creating a consistent brand have been a big focus for her in the lead-up. Being a recipe tester for Leite’s has been a big help for her, too, especially in understanding how to write a recipe and working through the testing process. 

One of the key parts of her preparation are tasting parties that she throws to get feedback from friends and family about the recipes she’s working on. She’s found that it depends on the taster because “people don’t want to hurt your feelings, especially if they’re your friends and family, and you really have to pull it out of them. Or, you just get someone who is really fussy!” For Kemp, it comes down to giving them permission to be honest and finding tasters who understand and love food, and like to try new things. 

Working with two team members in the competition, she counts herself lucky that one of them has attended the WFC in the past and has inside knowledge, having cooked in the bacon category before. In September, Kemp flew to Jacksonville, Florida, to do a complete run-through with her partner, in order to set up a detailed timeline. They also worked out any last kinks, including getting used to using an electric stove in time for the competition, unlike the gas stove she uses at home. “We’ve been figuring out plating, tweaking recipes with last-minute ‘tastings’, and adjusting timelines,” Kemp says, adding that she’s really starting to feel excited, and a little nervous, for the competition.

The competition runs from November 5 to 9, with Pam Kemp’s category being judged on the morning of Saturday, November 6th. If chosen as the top competitor in her category, she will then be expected to produce her final dish, on Monday, November 8th. Results will be posted on the website within 24 hours and we’re hoping to see the name of one of our own on that list. 

Curious as to what Kemp is making? Well, you’re just going to have to sit tight for part two of this series, when all–including photos of her dishes–will be revealed!  

Good luck in Dallas, Pam! 

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