Virginia Suddath Interview:
$1,000 Finalist (Hot Sandwich Category)
Mezzetta's Best Sandwich Recipe Contest
(Kona Po' Boy Recipe, Hot Category)
• How did you feel when you found out you won the contest?
[Virginia:] Quite delighted. Thank you, again.
• How did you come up with the idea for the winning sandwich?
I started with an ingredient that I'm currently using a lot, the chicken-apple sausage, and then tried to imagine how to use it in a Po' Boy sandwich that takes a tropical turn. I had some pineapple cut up in the refrigerator, so I made a relish that had the sweetness of the fruit, the sweet Maui onion and your red peppers, which I also had on hand. But then I thought it needed the tanginess of the pepper rings and rice vinegar, so went to the store to add them and then thyme from my garden. I threw the rum in at the end to give the relish more depth of flavor and added the chili sauce to the mayo for some spice. And then cilantro at the end because I thought it added some freshness. One thing just led to the next. Also I wanted it to be colorful.
• Have you ever won a cooking contest before?
No, I've never entered one before - but have been cooking since my first Easy Bake Oven and been reading cooking magazines since my teen years, so I'm sure that helps. And once when I was 16, my father entered a cooking contest at the Coastal Empire Fair in Savannah, where we were living at the time. Sadly his pecan pie recipe - pecans, Karo syrup, and a mystery alcohol component - didn't make the cut. My brother, Blake, and I were with him at the fairgrounds that night, so you could say I have some experience.
• Why do you think gourmet sandwiches are becoming such a trend?
Well, I hadn't thought about that before. I'm assuming that you're talking about this being a trend in the U.S., so I'd speculate that it has to do with the greater availability of higher quality ingredients in the U.S. market. I think that once you get tastier ingredients, then people begin to develop their palates and look for ways to use them creatively. At least that's the way it's been with me. I remember going to France for the first time as a college student and having a bowl of coffee and milk at a student cafeteria the morning after we landed. I was so blown away by the flavor of the milk (we were in Normandy) that I went back in line and asked for a bowl of just milk. My point is that good flavor excites people and that there's a lot more access to fresher and better tasting ingredients in this country (finally). So you combine that with a U.S. institution - the sandwich - and voila, gourmet sandwiches.
• How long have you been using Mezzetta products? Which are your favorites?
Certainly all the time I've been in Hawaii since the stores here carry California producers. I use your roasted red peppers the most and always have a jar of your capers in the fridge.
• Where do you shop for Mezzetta products?
We have them here in Kihei at Safeway stores and Star Market. I shop at both. Also Longs carries your Kona Coast line of products.
• Any plans yet for the prize money?
I'm sure I'll spend it on food and wine and will make a dinner for friends to celebrate. I'll save some since I'm not working right now.
• Age? (You can make this an approximation!)
I just turned 55.
I’m a college professor, with a Ph.D. in Western and Asian philosophy. I also teach women’s studies.
• Married? Children? Pets? Names?
I'm married. My husband, Curt Bennett, designs and builds waterfalls. He's also my numero uno taster in the kitchen and occasional sous chef (he's learned the technique of folding). I have a stepson, Cameron, who's just recently moved to Maui with his fiancée, Amie. They live right across the street, which is great - more people to cook for!
• How long a resident of Hawaii?
I've lived in Hawaii for 16 years, the first 15 on Oahu. I moved there from Boston to go to graduate school at University of Hawaii, and after finishing my Ph.D., I stayed on to work at the East-West Center and teach. I moved to Maui a year ago and hope to begin teaching here soon.
• Other hobbies, passions, pastimes?
These days I play tennis with my husband, who's a very good player, and love it, although I still have no serve. I love cooking, of course. I read a lot. I practice yoga. And I write. I'm working on an idea for a philosophical/historical novel.
• Anything else you would like to add?
I'd like to say that I agree 100% with Julia Child that the combination of joy and fearlessness in the kitchen is essential. I remember watching her as a kid on our PBS station in Boston. I began cooking back then when my father would tear out recipes from the Sunday New York Times Magazine and announce that we'd be making them together that afternoon. Neither of us knew what we were doing and had many disasters. I remember croissants as dense as the tabletop, although a passable coq au vin. Above all it was fun, so I'd like to remember him for that. Also my mother, who I don't think has yet forgiven him for showing up at her bedside after my birth with a copy of the Gourmet magazine cookbook as a gift. She has great forbearance and the best kitchen to cook in.