Food students help Pillsbury narrow down Bake-Off finalists

By University Communications
March 14, 2012
Pillsbury Bake-off

Photo: from left: Rebecca Trudeau, Michelle Olson, Rachel Albin, Catherine Earp

The person who wins the $1 million prize in the Pillsbury Bake-Off® may owe a small debt of gratitude to a University of Wisconsin-Stout student.

Four UW-Stout students, all majoring in food systems technology, were among six college interns last summer who represented the first stop — the Pillsbury Bake-Off® Test Kitchens — in the 10-month-long judging process.

One of the UW-Stout interns, Catherine Earp, of Apple Valley, Minn., said it was hard work testing recipes daily from late May to early August. “When people would ask what my schedule was like on a typical day, I would say ‘imagine making two Thanksgiving meals and then going back and writing about everything you did,’ ” Earp said.

Tens of thousands of recipes were entered in the 45th annual contest. Judges narrowed that list to between 500 and 600 recipes, which in turn were made by the student interns and two staff members.

After being prepared by interns according to the entrants’ directions, the finished recipes were given to a professional panel for tasting and other evaluation. Bake-Off® contest judges then narrowed the list to 100 finalists.

The last stop in the judging process is in Orlando, Fla., from Sunday, March 25, through Tuesday, March 27. The grand prize winner will be announced at 9 a.m. March 27 on “The Martha Stewart Show,” on the Hallmark channel.

Interns each had their own test kitchen and all the food and equipment they needed to make the recipes. They also shared an assistant and had other professional assistance in the test kitchens, part of General Mills headquarters in Golden Valley, Minn.

“Our days were busy with hot ovens, sizzling pans and timers beeping all around you. Sometimes I would be in the middle of four different recipes and would need to plan how I was going to have my hot food hot and my cold foods cold all at the same time,” Earp said.

The other UW-Stout interns were Rachel Albin, of St. Paul; Michelle Olson, of Maple Grove, Minn.; and Rebecca Trudeau, of Sheboygan.

“It was a lot of getting to know the recipes, which came in from all over the U.S.,” Olson said. “They were so creative and easy to make. We made food all day long.”

Contest recipes have to be original and contain at least two qualifying products. The recipes are judged on taste, appearance, creativity and consumer appeal, according to the contest website,

“It was so important to get the recipes spot-on because someone is going to get $1 million,” Olson said.

Olson, who will graduate in May, called it a “dream internship. It’s what we all love to do.”

Earp graduated in May 2011 and is event coordinator for Kowalski’s Catering in Minneapolis. She said the internship helped prepare her for her career by training her to multitask while preparing food.

“I think the most beneficial skill I learned from the Bake-Off® is how to do multiple things at once,” Earp said. “Whether I was reading a recipe, prepping for the next one or pulling cookies out of the oven, I enjoyed every minute of it.”

The food systems and technology major at UW-Stout offers five concentrations: food communication; food merchandising and distribution; food packaging; food science; and food systems management. For more about the program, go to