Editor's Note: Columnist Philip Potempa is reporting from Las Vegas while covering the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off.
TV personality Padma Parvati Lakshmi, who has been hosting Bravo's popular "Top Chef" series since 2006 stepped in for hosting duties for Monday's 46th annual Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest and Awards Dinner Ceremony.
Born in Chennai, India, the model-turned-cookbook author strolled the ballroom of the Aria Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas Monday morning visiting with contestants and sampling recipes during the three-hour competition.
Lakshmi, 43, who spent her teenage years as a strict vegetarian, was married to the novelist Salman Rushdie (23 years her senior), after the two were introduced at a party in 1999 hosted by the journalist and editor Tina Brown. Rushdie, 66, is the controversial author who wrote "The Satanic Verses" in 1988. Lakshmi is also said to be the model for one of the central characters and love interests in Rushdie's novel "Fury," which he also dedicated to her. The couple filed for divorce in 2007.
While there are a number of required brand ingredients that contestants, like our local favorite finalist Julie Beckwith of Crete, Ill., had to include in their winning finalist recipes this year, some of the traditional baking staples are still always in demand to whip up the 100 featured dishes of creative appetizers, desserts, breakfast favorites and main courses. During Monday's three-hour cooking and baking spree, 192 eggs and 95 pounds of flour were required to complete the selection of tasty judged hopeful dishes.
Now that the annual Pillsbury Bake-Off is returning to an every year contest schedule, just as it began more than 60 years ago, as opposed to "every other year," plans are already underway for the 2014 event which is again being held in November at a yet-to-be-announced hotel in Nashville. Recipe submissions to qualify as a semi-finalist begin in January. FYI: pillsbury.com
A familiar face
Strolling the ballroom during Monday's competition were two previous winners of the Pillsbury Bake-Off from two very different decades. Christine Verrelli of Devon, Penn., who was the 2012 $1 million grand prize winner with her recipe for Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream led this year's Grand March Parade of Contestants with some help from the Pillsbury Doughboy. Also chatting with contestants and posing for photographs was Mari Jane Petrelli, of Las Vegas, who was the 1966 grand prize winner with her recipe for Golden Gate Snack Bread when the contest was held that year in San Francisco and hosted by singer Pat Boone. Petrelli, who attended Monday's contest with her son Jon Petrelli, said her prize check was presented to her at the 1966 contest by "Ann Pillsbury," the fictitious character created for marketing purposes in 1944 (much like the dreamed up Betty Crocker) and designed to represent the members of the Pillsbury Home Economics Department and Test Kitchens.