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Three cooks stir pots for shot at Golden Spurtle


The Golden Spurtle is up for grabs, and on Aug. 16 three competitors will heat up their burners in an attempt to cook their way to the 20th Annual Golden Spurtle World Championships, held in Scotland in October.

by: PHOTO COURTESY: BOB'S RED MILL - Paula Todora will be making 'Paula's Steel Your Heart Away Eggrolls,' filled with Bob's Red Mill Steel Cut Oats, Granny Smith apples, walnuts and raisins mixed with sugar, spices and maple syrup; they are then fried until golden brown.Some background is in order: A spurtle is a traditional Scottish kitchen tool used to stir porridge. The Golden Spurtle is the prize given annually to the person who can cook the best bowl of porridge, using only water, oatmeal and a dash of salt. A specialty trophy also is awarded at the world championships for the most creative use of oatmeal in an unconventional dish.

The three finalists competing in the local cook-off on Aug. 16 are Camilla Saulsbury, from Nacogdoches, Texas; Paula Todora, from Keller, Texas; and Carl Youngmann, from Port Townsend, Wash.

In 2009, Matthew Cox, marketing director for Bob’s Red Mill and the first American to ever enter the competition, came away with the coveted Golden Spurtle for porridge making. Last year, Laurie Figone, winner of the Second Annual Bob’s Red Mill Spar for the Spurtle contest, also won a world title in Scotland, taking home the specialty trophy.

Now, as the Third Annual Bob’s Red Mill Spar for the Spurtle contest gets under way, a new crop of competitors is ready to demonstrate their cooking skills in front of an audience and a panel of judges.

The event kicks off at 2 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16, with a bagpiper leading competitors and dignitaries to the kitchen area of Bob’s Red Mill store on International Way in Milwaukie.

After a few introductions and remarks, cooking begins, and the clock will start ticking. In the competition, which “mirrors the one in Scotland,” three cooks must make their dishes in 30 minutes using only two burners, Cox said. “Then we wait in suspense while the judges select the winners.”

He was on the committee to view the contestants’ submitted videos and said that “all the presentations went way beyond what we have seen before. Their creativity was amazing.”

It was a tough job to narrow the 100 initial contestants down to the top three, but contributing factors included “great presence, simple but creative preparation, ideas that might spark the imagination for using oats, and dishes that might be successful in Scotland,” Cox said.

Saulsbury will dish up her take on dolmades, with a Scottish twist; Todora will make an eggroll stuffed with traditional apple-pie ingredients; and Youngmann will serve a buttered oats brittle that substitutes steel-cut oats for peanuts.

Camilla Saulsbury

Saulsbury is a fitness instructor, endurance athlete and busy mom, so she is very much into portable food.

“Many people may think of dolmades as Greek fare, typically grape leaves stuffed with a rice or meat mixture, but they are also Turkish, and I learned to make them from a Turkish friend in graduate school,” she said.

Saulsbury soaks the oats overnight, stir-fries them for a few minutes and adds some of her favorite Middle Eastern flavors and ingredients. The dolmades are then wrapped in kale leaves and served with a tahini-yogurt dipping sauce.

“I am a food blogger, food writer and cookbook author. I am not a professionally trained cook. I learned to cook from my parents, friends, reading everything I can about cooking and then experimenting. I switched careers a few years ago, from sociology professor to full-time food writer, and it was the best decision I ever made,” she said.

Paula Todora

Todora will be making Paula’s Steel Your Heart Away Eggrolls, filled with Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats, Granny Smith apples, walnuts and raisins mixed with sugar, spices and maple syrup; they are then fried until golden brown.

“Steel-cut oats are all about the heartland of America, so I wanted something that defined America, and what is more American than apple pie?” Todora said, adding, “This is an all-American dish with a taste of Asia.”

It was a fluke really, that she happened upon the eggroll idea.

“I was in the grocery store and picked up all the ingredients for pie, but I couldn’t figure out what to wrap it in. Then I passed by the eggrolls” and that served as her inspiration for her dish.

Todora, who sells commercial insurance for a living, uses cooking to add that spice of creativity to her life. She said she is not a contest person, but did win first prize for her appetizer in the Real Women of Philadelphia contest, using Kraft Philadelphia cream cheese back in 2011.

The Bob’s Red Mill competition caught her attention for two reasons.

“I eat steel-cut oats all the time, and the trip to Scotland spoke to me, because my mother’s family and my father’s family came from Scotland,” she said.

Carl Youngmann

Calling his contest entry Buttered Oats Brittle, Youngmann said “it is a wonderful example of an a-ha moment, because I had the idea, gave it a try right away, and was pleased with the results the first time.”

His brittle is a twist on the familiar peanut brittle, with the same burnt-sugar base as the traditional candy, but uses steel-cut oats in place of nuts.

Youngmann found out about the Spar for the Spurtle contest because it is printed right on the bag of oats, he said, adding, “Who doesn’t like a challenge? It’s always fun to see whether my ideas will strike others as having merit.”

Although he is not a food professional, he did note that long ago he was a finalist in the National Beef Cook-Off.

“I am retired from a varied career in mapping software development, computer graphics and medical device engineering. For fun, my wife and I have a letterpress studio where we indulge ourselves with hand-set type, ink and paper. We also like the challenge of recipe competitions,” Youngmann said.

“I’m excited to be competing in the Spar for the Spurtle. My wife and I use many of Bob’s Red Mill products at home, so it seems like a natural step to be going to the mothership to cook,” he said.

A trio of judges

Describing the trio of judges as an elite panel, Cox said they will taste all the dishes, consult with one another and choose one winner to head to Scotland for the world championships.

The three judges are Vitaly Paley, owner of Paley’s Place Bistro & Bar in Portland, noted cookbook author, and a 2005 James Beard award winner for Best Chef in the Northwest; Kim Sunée, best-selling author and “Iron Chef America” judge; and Lucinda Scala Quinn, executive editor of food and entertaining for Martha Stewart Living.

As for why he thinks the Bob’s Red Mill Spar for the Spurtle winners have been so successful in Scotland, Cox said he attributes it to great ingredients.

Oats are “a difficult product to make well. The preparation, whether getting them toasted, dried, steamed, rolled or chopped, makes all the difference. That is why we have won twice,” he said.

As for why people should come see the event, he said, “It is great fun, and they will get to see the store and get to see the passion we have for whole grains and porridge that is Bob’s Red Mill.”