You're looking at Tina Hoban and her husband, Ed. She's a grad of Seattle Central's pastry program who apprenticed under Sue McCown at the W Hotel's Earth + Ocean. The Hobans spent several years in St. Paul before returning to Washington, where they now have a seven-acre homsetead (beef, pork, goats, sheep, chickens, eggs) near Bellingham. Ed's a contractor, and Tina has a custom-baking business called Scratch Desserts. Those farm-fresh eggs! What a difference! Keeps her busy, but with her daughters now in school (Lilly's 7, Caitlin's 5), Tina is getting creative again.
You see, when Lilly was a baby, Tina entered her first contest, for Florida Natural Orange Juice, sending in a recipe for chocolate bread pudding with a creamy, buttery orange sauce. She nailed it, winning the $10,000 first prize. But not just luck. This year, she's entered two more. She was a finalist in a Tillamook Mac-n-Cheese competition, and, just this week, one of Washington's two finalists in the 2011 Foster Farms Fresh Chicken Cooking Contest.
We wrote about the first edition of the event last year, held at the Kathy Casey Food Studios in Ballard. Again, 2,000 entries winnowed to 5 by consultant Nancy Piho. This year, two finalists were selected by the tasting panel (in addition to Casey, culinarians Jamie Piha and Cynthia Nims). A big emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, echoing the "Fresh Chicken" theme of the sponsor's advertising campaign. (The national finals are in Napa next month; Hoban and Rebecca Spence of Vancouver will compete against finalists from Oregon and California.)
So what did Ms. Hoban come up with? A mouthful: "Chicken with Cherry Tapenade over Creamy Pancetta Polenta." You make the tapenade by blending dried Washington cherries, Kalamata olives and capers, then stuffing the result inside chicken breasts. The polenta is seasoned with chopped pancetta and goat cheese. Fresh rosemary provides nice aromatics.
It was by far the tastiest of the entries to my palate, probably because Hoban wasn't afraid to use flavorful seasonings (olives, capers, pancetta, goat cheese). Some cooks have an instinctive sense of what's needed, especially when it comes to salt. Though the fashion of the finnicky and ill-informed, these days, is "low salt," the result all too often is so bland as to be inedible. Hoban's not afraid.