Last Friday, I spent the day in the beautiful test kitchen at Del Monte headquarters in San Francisco, tasting and scoring, over and over again, to help choose the first ever “Crown the Cook” winner.
I’ll be the first to sheepishly admit, too, that I had forgotten that the canned fruit and veggie manufacturer was based in this fair city I grew up in. Del Monte actually started in Monterey, which of course makes so much sense given that city’s rich cannery history.
As its business skyrocketed, it moved its headquarters to San Francisco and branched into Walnut Creek for its R&D facilities. It also has operations in Southern California, where its pet food manufacturing, which accounts for about half of its sales, is based.
More than 600 folks from around the country entered the “Crown the Cook” Facebook cook-off contest in the categories of sides, mains and desserts. One finalist was chosen from each of those categories to come to San Francisco to cook their dish before a judging panel that consisted of Mario DiFalco, Del Monte’s director of marketing; Loren Cruz, Del Monte’s director of product R&D; Alice Harding, Del Monte’s head chef; and yours truly, the only “outsider,” if you will.
Each recipe had to use at least one Del Monte product. And each contestant had 90 minutes to complete their dish, which was not as easy as it sounded. Just you try cooking while a video crew is filming all around you, a host is peppering you with questions, and Del Monte employees from all parts of the building are watching your every move and snapping photos.