Catching up with baking champ Brian Emmett of Itasca

  • Brian Emmett of Itasca celebrated with his family when he won CBS' "The American Baking Competition." Emmett competed against nine other bakers from around the country.

    Brian Emmett of Itasca celebrated with his family when he won CBS' "The American Baking Competition." Emmett competed against nine other bakers from around the country. Courtesy of CBS

  • Brian Emmett, center, made it to the top three and then won CBS's "The American Baking Competition."

    Brian Emmett, center, made it to the top three and then won CBS's "The American Baking Competition." Courtesy of CBS

Updated 7/31/2013 1:36 PM

It's been just three weeks since Itasca dad Brian Emmett impressed the judges on CBS' "The American Baking Competition" with his miniature pastries and peanutty chiffon roll and was crowned Best Amateur Baker in the U.S.

Emmett actually won the elminination-style competition back in March, but had to keep mum until the finale aired July 10.

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"When I got back (in March) everyone would ask where I had been; that was hard," Emmett said, whose wife and daughters also had to keep the outcome to themselves. "We'd be with family and look at each other wondering if we'd slipped and said too much. There were some days when I didn't go out (of the house)."

Since the finale aired earlier this month, he's been free to talk about the heated competition and its colorful cast and he's busy pulling together recipes for a cookbook that was part of the winner's package. The $250,000 in prize money is already in the bank, some earmarked for shopping, some for a birthday vacation.

I caught up with Brian while he was actually out of the kitchen and spending time with his wife and daughters in Michigan.

What was the biggest lesson you learned on the show? "Taking the judges' criticism and growing. I went in a good baker and came out a more knowledgeable baker."

Tell us about the cookbook: "Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd get to put together a cookbook. I sent over 100 recipes, sweet and savory; I did a lot savory things on the show. ... There's no title yet. We're on a tight deadline, I think they want the release to tie in with the second season of the show."


Is there a dish from the show you wish was on the cutting room floor? "The souffle. That totally flopped. I didn't follow the judge's recipe and lessened the amount of liquid. It did not turn out for me."

Is there a moment you're most proud of: "When I helped (fellow contestant) James make his choux pastry. I saw him struggling. I'm fast on my feet and I was done so I had the time to help him. I'm confident, and I'm a competitor, but that showed my true personality."

Would you do it (a show) again? "I said I would never do it again; it was hard to be away from my family and be judged. But I would love to do 'The Great British Bake Off' (the show from which the U.S. show spun off); it would be fun to compete against British bakers; they have different recipes, different techniques."

Kernel contraption: When I was reading M. Eileen Brown's column (above)about making corn soup I couldn't help think about this cute gadget sitting on my desk: Kuhn Rikon's Corn Twister.


The last time I received a product promising to make removing corn from the cob simple and mess-free it didn't live up to the hype. Frankly, I didn't have high hopes for the Corn Twister.

But this thing works. You hold the green silicone husk part of the contraption in one hand and use it to hold an ear of corn. Hold the plastic corn cob with serrated teeth in the other hand and with a twisting motion push down on the cob. The kernels fall right onto the cutting board and the cob pulls out when you reach the bottom.

If you like to make corn chowder, creamed corn and corn salsa, it's $16 well spent. Look for it at Sur la Table stores or on

Something's fishy: Chicago may be the second city in some respects, but when it comes to sardines, it's No. 1.

Seriously, the suburbs and Chicago collectively lead the nation when it comes to sardine consumption, so say the folks with King Oscar sardines. So naturally, the Swedish company (with a base in San Diego) picked here to launch its flavor-infused brisling sardine packs.

Spicy Cracked Pepper in Extra-virgin olive oil and Jalapeno in Extra-virgin olive oil can be eaten on their own (they're a cocktail hour favorite), but I suggest chopping a few and tossing them into salads or stirring them into pasta. I'm also envisioning the jalapeño version heaped on a nacho platter.

Sardines are a sustainable fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Consumption of omega-3s has been shown to decrease bad cholesterol and improve heart health. Sardines are also a good source of potassium, riboflavin, vitamin D and calcium.

Speaking of fish: America's Queen of Caviar, Carolyn Collins, docks in Algonquin Friday for a special dinner at the venerable Port Edward, 20 W. Algonquin Road.

Collins, who founded Collins Caviar 30 years ago, is the special guest at a ChicaGourmet event that starts at 5 p.m. Aug. 2 with cocktails on the patio overlooking the Fox River. A seafood buffet with international flare (think lobster bisque, steamed mussels blackened catfish and paella Valenciana) paired with wines follows.

The dinner is open to the public and costs $99 ($89 for ChicaGourmet members). Reserve at

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at or follow her on Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter @PankeysPlate.

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