Pat Clark of Mooreville found out in early summer she was a finalist in the 2012 contest. In 2011, Paula Jones of Tupelo won the grand prize for her Jalapeño-Basil Pork Chops.
Clark entered four recipes in this year’s contest, so she wasn’t even sure which one had impressed the judges.
“I had entered it in 1995 and I won the side dish category that year,” she said. “I picked up a magazine last December and decided to enter four or five recipes.”
Clark, the director of the Bel-Air Senior Recreation Center in Tupelo, forgot she had even submitted recipes for the contest until she got a call one day from Patty Roper, editorial director for Mississippi Magazine.
“She called one morning and asked where I got some of the ingredients in a recipe and I told her,” said Clark, 75. “Then later that afternoon, I got a call from a staff member. She was asking about cheese in another recipe I had entered.”
A week later she got an email asking for a short biographical blurb and a recent photograph.
“That’s when they told me I was a finalist,” she said. “I didn’t think anymore about it and then about a week later, I got a big stack of the May-June issue of the magazine in the mail.”
On page 120 was a picture and the recipe for Clark’s prize-winning Chinese Chicken Luncheon Salad. Clark said she’s been making this dish for about 20 years.
“I was the chef on a private yacht for years,” Clark said. “One day, I ate this salad at a Mexican restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. A Mexican restaurant – can you believe that? I went back to the boat and came up with my own version.”
Clark said the first time she served it to guests on the boat, she plated the spaghetti and greens and toppings and put a serving in front of each person.
“And I got mine and sat down and realized I’d forgotten to put the chicken on it,” she said. “So I had to collect all the plates and take them back and add the chicken.”
As the grand prize winner for her chicken salad, Clark received a four-day trip to Four Points Sheraton Biloxi, a day spa trip to the Beau Rivage Resort in Biloxi, a set of Roper’s cookbooks and a three-year subscription to Mississippi Magazine.
A native of Meridian, Clark said she used to follow recipes to the letter, but she’s loosened up a bit over the years.
“Used to be if a recipe said to turn around three times before you stir, I did,” she said, laughing. “Now I’ve gotten a little more brave. I don’t measure as much as I dump.”
Side dish winner
Clark wasn’t the only Northeast Mississippi woman to take home honors in this year’s contest. Sara Gardner of Aberdeen won the Side Dish category for her Turnip Green Casserole.
“I had never entered any kind of contest before,” said Gardner, a partner in the Cottage Tea Room and Catering in Aberdeen. “But everyone has loved this recipe every time I’ve served it. My children love it.”
Gardner actually sent in two recipes: The other was for a toasted coconut cake.
“I really thought that would be the one when they called and said I was a finalist,” she said.
Gardner said the turnip green recipe actually came about because of a mistake.
“We had bought canned turnip greens for a catering deal and we overbought,” she said. “I kind of went to putting things together and this casserole was one of them.”
Gardner, a retired nurse, also won a set of Roper’s cookbooks and a two-year subscription to the magazine.
“One thing that was left out of the recipe was three tablespoons of red wine vinegar,” she said. “I just think it gives it a little zing.”