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Woman with local ties wins “Worst Cooks in America”

By John Estridge, Editor

Allison Wolfe had a good use for her shiny, new fanny pack: She put a check worth $25,000 into the new pack.

Wolfe, 31, Richmond, Texas, wore fanny packs during the Worst Cooks in America competition on the Food Network Channel, and she won the finale cook off aired Sunday, March 3 taking home a check for $25,000.

She is the granddaughter-in-law of Franklin County resident Mary Lou Hertel. Allison is married to Justin Wolfe, Mary Lou's grandson. Justin's parents are Kelly and Lynda Wolfe.

Allison was the last remaining member of the Red Team. She was paired against the remaining cook on the Blue Team, Brittany Carel, 23, of Ft. Lauderdale.

Their task was to cook a three-course restaurant-worthy meal for three judges. The judges were: Debi Mazar, Jess Tom and Michael Psilakis. Tom is an American chef who was a co-winner of Food Network Star Season 14. Mazur is an actress and television personality. And Psilakis is a chef who has appeared in many TV shows including Iron Chef America.

The judges did not know who cooked what. They were told one three-course meal was Team X, and the other was Team Y.

Before making their three-course meal, the two finalists received a cooking lesson from the show's hosts: Anne Burrell (Team Red) and Tyler Florence (Team Blue). Allison chose to learn how to make fried chicken. She told the story about when Justin took her home to Indiana to meet his family, Kelly asked her if she could make fried chicken. Allison said yes, but it was a lie. Her chicken was burned on the outside and raw on the inside.

However, the fried chicken on the show was very good. Along with the fried chicken, she made mashed potatoes and slaw.

“I am so ready for my chicken redemption at my in-laws,” Allison said in an interview. “We hope to come up this summer to show Justin's family my new skills, and I cannot wait to serve them some tasty fried chicken.”

Then came the finale. Prior to starting, Allison laid out photos of her husband and three children so they could watch her cook. She said a quote that had been said once to her: “If I put love in my dish, it's going to taste like love.”

Carel chose to make yellow-fin tuna with roasted beets and white miso for her appetizer. Allison's appetizer was shrimp with creamed corn, pepper and tomato along with a chorizo salad. Anne said it was a trip through Spain.

Allison did not like cleaning the shrimp, but she put her best foot forward.

The judges liked Carel's appetizer but said it was under seasoned and needed more spice and acid. With Allison, the judges said the shrimp was cooked perfectly; the creamed corn was amazing, but the chorizo was really hard.

When preparing the chorizo, Allison said she did not like working with chorizo and would not be preparing it at home.

They then moved onto the entrée. Carel's entrée was grilled wagyu beef and carrots with chawanmushi. The former is a special Japanese beef, and the chawanmushi is a savory egg custard, which is also a Japanese dish.

Allison cooked pork tenderloin with farro stew and serrano ham. The ham was a hat to the tenderloin. While cooking the entrée, Allison said she was going to take deep breaths to make sure she was calm and collected.

However, while cutting up the ham, Allison cut her index finger on her left hand. A medic treated her finger while she continued to cut up the ham. Each participant was working with a time limit.

“I'm not going to give up $25,000 for a little cut,” Allison said during the program.

“It is so much better now, but it was definitely annoying,” Allison said during the interview. “There was no way I was going to let a little cut get in the way of $25,000.”

When the judges tasted the entrees, they said Carel's meat was cooked perfectly. It was seasoned well and had a char on both sides. They also said the meat was really beautiful. However, the chawanmushi was too salty, and the carrots were slightly undercooked.

Then came Allison's entrée. Tom said Allison's entrée looked like a TV dinner, a fancy TV dinner. The judges said the pork had a little pink, which is how they like it. However, they said the beans were a little overcooked, and the stew was a little wet. But they said the serrano ham was crispy.

For dessert, Carel made matcha white chocolate mousse with Yuzu crisp. Allison made an English trifle with sponge cake, lemon curd and berries.

Allison said she nailed the baking portion during the “Worst Cooks in America” season, so she was very optimistic about her dessert.

During the dessert preparation, Allison reminded herself to breathe and have fun. She also said her arm was about ready to fall off from all the whisking she had to do. Anne said Allison was acting like a ninja.

“There's been so much pressure the entire boot camp, and it's accumulated here,” Allison said.

After the judges tasted the desserts, they made their comments.

They said Carel's dessert had bright colors, was beautiful and was light and floral. Mazar said she liked the Yuzu cracker. Psilakis said the execution was really fabulous. However, they said there needed to be more texture in the dessert. It was too creamy and did not have enough crunchiness.

The judges loved Allison's lemon curd taste and how her dessert looked. They described how it looked alternately as a “big, smiley face” and “joys of 1950s technicolor revisited.” Psilakis said of the lemon curd taste “I want to keep going in there and eating more.” However, they said the cake was a little dense.

After tasting the desserts, they discussed the meals in their entirety. They said both were very good cooks and showed talent but “thinking about them, one is a little more special.”

When the cooks were in front of the judges, they said it was very close between the two cooks, but it came down to whose dishes they wanted to eat again.

And when they announced the winner, the standing Allison suddenly sat down on the floor.

“My legs were shaking like crazy right before they announced the winner,” Allison said in the

interview. “I thought I was going to pass out. I think me sitting down was just my way of collecting myself and taking it all in.

“It felt incredible,” she continued in the interview. “I have never worked so hard in my life, and I think it was a huge relief to know that I could do it. I feel that winning was just the icing on the cake.”

On the program, Allison said what this meant for her children.

“If they really want to do something and they try, they can do anything that they want,” Allison said of the message this sends to her children.

Anne said she was “beyond proud” of Allison, and she started crying, which is very out of character for her.

“Seeing Chef Anne cry was incredibly touching,” Allison said in the interview. “This woman, literally, instilled upon me a loving of cooking and changed my life. I owe her so much. And I was truly grateful she trusted me to represent her in the finale.”

Since arriving back to her home in Texas, Allison continues to cook for her family.

“I like to cook as much as I can, and my family is loving it,” Allison said in the interview. “I am not afraid to try new recipes and test my skills. I think my favorite thing to do is recreate dishes from boot camp. I especially like to challenge myself by trying recipes from Chef Tyler's team. They can all be found at foodnetwork.com.”

As for the $25,000, Allison said she would like to say she is hiring the band Hanson to play at her birthday party, but she and Justin decided to put the money toward their children's education.

“Education is really important to us, and the $25,000 will be an incredible start,” Allison said.

However, she did admit $50 of the winnings went to a massage at a local mall.

Allison has now started a blog about cooking and being a mother.

“I have started a blog called 'Food, Family and my Fanny Pack,'” Allison said in the interview. “There, I am going to share my cooking journey. The recipes I am going to focus on will be nutritious, simple to make and easy to eat. As a mom of three small children, time management is incredibly important. Just go to foodfamilyandmyfannypack.com or follow me on Instagram @allison_vic.”

At the finale's end, the screen showed a large The End, but then put a question mark behind it. Allison was asked if that meant she might do more for the Food Network.

“I would LOVE to,” Allison said. “The Food Network took such tremendous care of us. I would be honored to work with them again. Hey Food Network- I'm available.”






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