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The SCV's best home cook

Merry Graham of Newhall has a winning way with recipes

Posted: May 4, 2013 10:15 p.m.
Updated: May 4, 2013 10:16 p.m.
 Newhall's own Merry Graham has one many competitions with her various recipes.  Newhall's own Merry Graham has one many competitions with her various recipes.
 Newhall's own Merry Graham has one many competitions with her various recipes.

The best home cook in the Santa Clarita Valley found her passion for recipe contests in 2009 after winning a trip to the Aspen Food and Wine Festival.

“I won for a writing contest for Green and Black Organic Chocolate,” Merry Graham said. “It was so much fun. We took classes from every celebrity cook you could imagine. I had never been to anything like that.”

When Graham returned from the event she decided she had to win another trip.

She got on the computer and discovered

“I never knew there were so many contests,” she said.

Graham began entering contests and she began winning.

Among the prizes Graham has won are trip to Scotland, a $10,000 Ralphs grocery card and $25,000 in cash from Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker.

Graham won the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker Chocolate Adventure contest for her Margarita Moon Pies recipe. She bested nearly 1,500 other recipes to come out on top.

Graham also won the third annual Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest held at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Competing against the creations of five other finalists from California, Oregon and Washington, Graham’s Lemon-Hoisin Glazed Chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice beat out nearly 1,200 West Coast recipes to win the $10,000 grand prize and a one-year supply of Foster Farms fresh chicken

In addition to trips, free produce and cash, Graham has won several chef’s jackets.

“It’s really neat to have a chef’s coat,” she said. “As a home cook, it makes you feel special to have a real chef’s jacket.”

She has two jackets from Foster Farms chicken cooking contests, a coat from her win in the Aetna Healthy Food

Fight contest and a coat from Bob’s Red Mill she wore in Scotland in the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship.

Graham, of Newhall, is the mother of four who has spent her life as a homemaker and home school teacher.

After winning the Aetna contest, Graham walked out into Times Square in New York City to find her photo and name adorning a marquee.

“I’m the only one in my family to be up on a marquee in Times Square,” she said.

Graham has won a minimum of $10,000 in recipe contests each year since she began in 2009.

With her winnings Graham gives money to charity, makes gifts to her family and buys ingredients for her recipes.

“With this $25,000 I am going to put $5,000 away for our retirement,” she said. “I’ve never been able to do that before and I feel really cool that I can now.”

Graham’s food philosophy is “California fresh.”

“We’re offered so much fresh food here,” she said. “I like to eat lean, and I like fresh produce. I crave broccoli. I also love fish and chicken.

Graham describes herself as an artist, but with food.

“I see food as an artist sees a canvas,” she said. “An artist will gather their paints and I gather my ingredients.

Food is experienced through the eyes and the emotions, then through the palate.”

The hardest thing for Graham to create, she said, is a recipe with limited ingredients.

“I love to see the beauty in food,” she said. “I love to have contrasts, so when a recipe can only have six or seven ingredients it is so hard because I can’t have that contrasting color or lime juice with the red peppers. I want contrast in food. I want it to be an experience.”

When dining at Thomas Keller’s Los Angeles restaurant Bouchon Bistro, Graham said she realized that she had slowed down when eating, savoring each mouthful.

“I want my food to capture people’s attention,” said Graham.

Among her future goals is to travel to Italy to take cooking classes.

Graham said Italy trips are usually offered about three times a year in recipe contests, but it’s one of the prizes that have eluded her.

“Sometimes I think I’ll just take some of my winnings and pay for the trip,” she said. “But then I’ll think, let me see if I can wait and win a trip.”


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