Home cook Tammy Brownlow, 43, doesn't remember ever traveling outside of Texas, but her Pecan Pie Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce recipe is taking her to Vegas.
Brownlow's recipe qualified her to be invited to the 2013 World Food Championships in Las Vegas on Nov. 7 to 9. Almost 500 competitors from more than 10 countries will be competing. The tournament-style competition has seven categories with total prize money of $300,000.
"I'm thrilled beyond thrilled," said Brownlow, a Bryan resident. "The best way that I can describe it is that this is the bucket list item of all bucket list items for any aspiring home cook."
As a girl, Brownlow learned how to cook and bake from her mother and grandmother, whom she describes as amazing Southern cooks. But instead of sticking to the traditional style, Brownlow began to add her own flair to Southern food. That compelled her to combine her dad's two favorite desserts as a birthday present for him.
"I wanted the dessert to have two distinctive layers of his two favorite desserts," she said. "There were a lot of trials and errors. I went through so many pecan pies and cheesecakes. It was hilarious."
Her recipe was a hit. The positive response encouraged her to enter the recipe to JustAPinch.com, a sponsor of the World Food Championships. Chefs at Just A Pinch review submitted recipes, prepare them, and select finalists, who are then invited to compete in Vegas.
"I wasn't expecting this," Brownlow said when she got the news she was a finalist in the dessert category. Because she had received a Blue Ribbon award from Just A Pinch before for a swiss chard pesto recipe, that was all she was hoping for.
The competition will be fierce, but that doesn't scare her.
"I've seen the list of competitors," she said. "These are people I have watched and idolized on Food Network for years; but last year, a Just A Pinch finalist won in the side dish category, so us home cooks are a force to be reckoned with."
That -- a home cook -- is what Brownlow considers herself, among other things. She also calls herself a food dork and a computer nerd. She was in culinary school for one year before she decided to get a degree in computer science, for financial stability.
Her dream day is cooking all day, unlike many people who opt for the 30-minute-or-less meals.
"I love making fresh pastas, artisan bread, roasting, grilling, or anything that takes all day," she said. "For me, it's relaxing. People knit, read, make jewelry, but cooking is my creative outlet. It lights me up inside."
And everyone around her is glad she loves to cook. Brownlow's mother, Sandy, recognizes her daughter's talent for creative cooking and baking and is excited for the holidays because Brownlow makes unbelievable homemade eggnog and apple butter, she said.
"I think she'll do great [in the competition]." Sandy said. "That recipe is unbelievable. It's really unique because pecan pie is so sweet, and a cheesecake is not as sweet, so she really had to work on that to get those two to work together."
Brownlow isn't afraid to enter competitions anymore, and said being a finalist has taught her to trust herself. She is also applying to be on Food Network shows and Master Chef on FOX.
"Don't be afraid of your dreams," she said. "If you fear something, you have to do it. You just have to."
For those interested in sponsoring Tammy Brownlow for her travel expenses to the 2013 World Food Championships, email her at Tabnov70@yahoo.com.