Home Chef Challenge winner dishes on her dream meal

Sep. 7, 2011 at 9:09 AM ET

Courtesy of Sarah Bennett /

Writer, artist and retired theatre arts teacher Sarah Bennett is the latest winner of TODAY's Home Chef Challenge, taking 68 percent of the vote with her peach BBQ chicken with garden saute dish. Get the recipe, and learn a litte more about what gets this food lover's appetite going.

Name: Sarah Blair Bennett

Age: 63

Hometown: Belle Glade, Fla.

How does it feel to win the Home Chef Challenge?

This is so exciting! Wow! I am so proud--yea! yea! When I was growing up, my friends and I decided that the ultimate in fame and prestige would be either to be on the cover of Time magazine or my special was to be on the TODAY Show. Well, this is pretty good. Thanks.

How long have you been cooking?

I suppose the beginning of my becoming excited about cooking came early. I remember getting a “Little Golden Book of Recipes” when I was about 4 or 5. I made everything in that book--Salads with a peach half and raisins and carrots to create a face; hot chocolate--it was fantastic. Then my older sister gave me a “Betty Crocker Cookbook for Kids”and this was equally memorized. It had a cake in the shape of a bonnet for Easter--wow, didn’t I feel special making that for our Easter dinner. Then I received $5.00 for my 9th birthday. I was downtown shopping in West Palm Beach at the Halsey & Giffiths’ Office Supply store with my mother. I found the book section. I perused each and every cook book. A nice woman who worked in the store came over to me.

Courtesy of Sarah Bennett /
Try making Sarah Bennet's winning dish, peach bbq chicken with garden saute.

I had chosen the new Betty Crockerillustrated 3-ring binder cookbook. She looked at me with that face that all adults look at children with when they think they surely know more that a child. She just knew that book was too “old” for me and that I wouldn’t be happy with it.  I knew I wanted and needed that book.

I took that book home and would lie in bed and read it every night, recipe by recipe. I chose something to cook from it almost every day.

By the time I was married to my husband, Robert Bennett, I told him, “I am a wonderful cook. You will never want for an exciting, delicious meal. Now, this housework stuff--well, I am not so good at that. The dust just keeps coming back.”

Share your favorite cooking tip

I remember watching Jeff Smith and reading his cookbooks. He was the “Frugal Gourmet.” He said the idea of being frugal was not being cheap, but it was to use what you have and what is in season. I think that is my favorite cooking tip. Make a beautiful, mouth-watering meal and then try to use those left-overs in a creative way. Transform them into a new delicious meal. Add a new touch with the fresh fruits and vegetables available to you. Frozen vegetables are just about as good when you can’t use the fresh. There is the standing joke at our house that as we say the prayer before our meal, that should we be saying, “Please, bless this food -- again.” I am the queen of leftover revivals!

What would be your ideal last meal?

I would want the last meal to be something new, something I never have experienced before. I would want the famous chefs of “TV land” to serve me a very special meal.

Anthony Bourdain maybe could provide an appetizer of marrow in bones (like my mother use to cook--but we didn’t know it was rich food--it was cheap then)--his would be different, might be better; Tyler Florences’ ultimate soup or chowder or bisque would warm my soul. Next a salad from Giada DeLaurentiis with an oil and vinegar blue cheese dressing.

The main course could be fish, mahi mahi, red snapper, or king fish cooked with lemon and Mexican spices from Aaron Sanchez; a meat course from the grill of Bobby Flay--maybe even ribs--if it is my last meal--I don’t have to worry about the fat.

I do like vegetables and so for a side dish of greens or even a garden saute from Alex Guarnaschelli--she would do something delicious and different I’m sure; and of course, a potato from Paula Dean. Warm, toasty bread from Martha Stewart with butter and honey on the side.

Anne Burrell would serve the first dessert of … maybe a caramel bread pudding; and molecular gastronomy chef Wylie Dufresne comes with a nitro, foam dessert on little plates; and of course, Duff Goldman could serve a little cake just for me. Marcus Sameulsson, I am sure, could please me with a dessert from Sweden.

Someone who I might even ask to join me (besides my husband, Robert, and my daughter, Lindsay,) for the entire meal so I could talk to him would be Alton Brown. He would prepare and serve us homemade ice cream with details of the science of the process. I started out in college in the science department working for a degree in medicine, until I switched to my other love--theatre. But the science of cooking has always been an important part of the lure that has kept me trying all of the different cooking styles I come in contact with in my reading.