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Valerie Phillips: Seeing familiar faces while covering the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off

Christina Verrelli of Devon, Pa. talks with Martha Stewart about her recipe for  Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream after it was named the "Sweet Treats" category winner at the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, Tuesday, March 27, 2012 in Orl
Christina Verrelli of Devon, Pa. talks with Martha Stewart about her recipe for Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream after it was named the "Sweet Treats" category winner at the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, Tuesday, March 27, 2012 in Orlando, Fla.
Associated Press

One of the cool things about writing this column is the chance to revisit people I've written about in the past and see how their lives have evolved.

Such was the case when I attended the Pillsbury Bake-Off March 24-27 in Orlando. Among some of the foodie folks attending was Kelsey Nixon, star of the Food Network's "Kelsey's Essentials." Many of you may remember that the North Ogden native and Brigham Young University grad was a finalist (and "fan favorite") on "The Next Food Network Star" reality series in 2008. For the past two years, she's hosted "Kelsey's Essentials" on the Cooking Channel, and will soon be hosting a new show, "The Perfect Three."

During the Bake-Off, Kelsey did a media seminar sponsored by Smucker's called "Mealtime Matters." She and her husband, Robby Egan, chatted with finalists during the Bake-Off and sampled some of the recipes. I spent some time interviewing Kelsey, so stay tuned for a future article all about her latest adventures.

I was also happy to see another familiar face, Brigitte Nguyen of Lexington, Ky. In 2009, I covered the National Chicken Cooking Contest when she won the $50,000 grand prize for her Oriental chicken burger.

While competing on the Food Network's "Ultimate Recipe Showdown," she caught the eye of producers, which eventually led to a job hosting the Cooking Channel's "From the Kitchens Of …" She also has a weekly TV cooking show in Lexington.

As a judge for this year's Pillsbury Bake-Off, Brigitte was able to bring her past contest experiences to the table.

Since we had some time to talk during lunch, I asked Brigitte about the misconceptions TV viewers may have about her job. For instance, some people assume the hosts of the various Food Network and Cooking Channel shows see each other regularly. But no, they all don't go to work every day at a big office with cubicles next to each other, or trade recipes with Paula or Rachael on a daily basis. Some hosts, such as Brigitte, are often filming in different cities across the country.

I think food TV fans will be seeing more of Brigitte in the future.

In 2003, I visited the McCormick Technical Innovation Center in Hunt Valley, Md., where the spice and flavoring company conducts research. So it was another romp down memory lane to hear from three of McCormick's chefs. During the Bake-Off, they did a media seminar about their 2012 Flavor Forecast, where they explore global trends in spices and herbs. I've followed their forecasts over the years, and some (such as hibiscus paired with ancho chile powder in 2011 or tarragon with beetroot in 2009) didn't make it to the average home kitchen. But the chefs pointed out that they predicted the popularity of chipotle, coconut water and smoked paprika.

Some of the up-and-coming flavors they mentioned include red tea (a caffeine-free product of South Africa), grapefruit with red pepper, Meyer lemon, dill, sweet soy with tamarind and black pepper, and harissa. We'll see.

After years of watching and writing about Martha Stewart, it was exciting to see her "in person," and actually exchange a few words with her. At a media dinner, she spoke about her new book, "Martha's American Food: A Celebration of Our Nation's Most Treasured Dishes, from Coast to Coast." I think most of us were hoping — in vain — to score a review copy. She did give a copy to General Mill's advertising head, Mark Addicks, commenting that her assistant thinks he's "hot."

Stewart's involvement brought a certain cachet to the Bake-Off. And it was exciting for all the finalists, their families and those of us in the media to appear on her show when she announced the million-dollar winner. In 2010, the four category winners were flown to Chicago where Oprah Winfrey announced the grand prize winner on her show. It was a thrill for those four finalists, but a let-down for everyone else who went home without knowing who won.

The Bake-Off offers lots of excitement for the finalists, and lots of column fodder for the journalists who cover it.

Editor' note: Valerie Phillips attended the 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off as a guest of General Mills.

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com. Email: vphillips@desnews.com