How a few pounds of chicken and a jar of Old El Paso salsa changed one family’s life.
Writer/software designer Mathews (The Linden Tree, 2007) and husband Carl work together, travel together and, most importantly, eat together. When Mathews was bitten by the cooking bug, rather than go off half-cocked and open a restaurant, she entered a cooking contest. One competition led to another, and she soon was in the thick of the Pillsbury Bake-Off, at which she took first prize with her recipe for Salsa Couscous Chicken. Not only did the victory earn Mathews a million-dollar prize, but she briefly became a minor celebrity, appearing on Oprah, The Rosie O’Donnell Show and in the New York Times. Thanks to this small, unprepossessing book, her 15 minutes of fame isn’t up quite yet. Enthusiastic and sharp but grounded in reality (unlike some competitive cookers), the author comes off here as a less-than-gourmet version of Julie Powell (Julie & Julia, 2005). Like Powell, Mathews is sweet and self-deprecating—at one point, she notes, “When I present something I’ve cooked, I tend to apologize”—but her demeanor masks true seriousness of purpose. Look past the casual attitude and the cutesy one-liners, and you realize that she was genuinely proud of her victory, so much so that she spends much of the book’s first half explaining the history and extolling the virtues of the Bake-Off. Readers seeking useful recipes or food-industry dirt would be better served checking out something by Mario Batali or Anthony Bourdain, but those looking for a nice little story about how eight chicken thighs can earn you seven figures, look no further.
The Rachael Ray set will eat up Mathews’s pleasantly fluffy tale of culinary triumph.