Local cobbler is national finalistPublished 10:59am Friday, August 17, 2012 Updated 10:59am Friday, August 17, 2012
It’s not easy being the sole representative of the five-state area, but Dalton resident Vicki Lee is taking to the job with a smile and a sense of humor.
Lee, who has managed and cooked at the Ten Mile Lake Steakhouse for the last six years, is a finalist in a national food distributor’s recipe contest. As the only contestant left in Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa or Wisconsin, she’s hoping some local pride will push voters to select her caramel apple cranberry cobbler as the winning recipe in an online poll.
Earlier in August, Lee was notified by the steakhouse’s food distributor, US Foods, of a company-sponsored recipe contest. Lee found out about the contest just days before the contest’s Aug. 3 deadline, and she knew just what to make.
“I went for soup,” she said.
Besides steak, one of the restaurant’s most popular menu items is knoffla soup: a German chicken dumpling-style recipe that Lee makes every Friday to meet local demand. There was just one problem.
“There was no category for my knoffla soup, so I entered my dessert,” she said.
Her dessert was the cobbler, a recipe she whipped up a few autumns ago to feed hunters who stopped at Ten Mile when they weren’t out in the woods. The dish, a warm, moist concoction topped with homemade caramel sauce and packing a surprising tang in the cranberries, became so popular that she added it to the regular menu. It’s been the best-selling dessert at the restaurant since.
“People just love it,” she said.
Not long after entering the contest, Lee went on a short vacation. She didn’t know what to think when one of the steakhouse’s cooks called her while she was away.
“She said, ‘Are you sitting down?’” Lee recalled with a laugh. “I thought somebody died.”
There was no death, just word that she had been picked as one of the 10 dessert finalists (the other two categories are appetizers and main dishes). But that wasn’t all: she was the only finalist out of the 30 from the five-state area. Many of the other finalists hailed from the Carolinas or other states known for their cooking, and Lee’s closest competitors could be found in Nebraska or Illinois.
“We’re competing with big fancy restaurants,” she said, grinning nervously. “We’re just a tiny little small-town Ten Mile Lake Steakhouse.”
The restaurant and its owner, Ten Mile Lake Resort, might not be famous, but Lee loves being there. She lives on the property, and most of her family lives nearby (she has three kids and five grandkids).
But then, Lee considers the Ten Mile Lake crew family, too. She loves cooking at the restaurant and having fun with her coworkers.
The three category contest winners are selected by winning a poll on Facebook. Each will receive $5,000 in cash and $15,000 in kitchen equipment, but Lee might be most excited about another prize, one that might win her some positive cooking notoriety.
“If (the cobbler) wins, they will produce it commercially and sell it to restaurants across the country!” she exclaimed.
But, she was quick to add, Ten Mile won’t start selling the pre-made cobbler.
“I’ll still make it homemade,” she said.
To win the contest, Lee and Ten Mile need a lot of support from the community. Her mid-100s vote total puts the cobbler in the middle of the pack, ahead of smaller votegetters but well behind the leader: a strawberry key lime pie out of Augusta, Ga., which has garnered more than 4,000 votes.
To vote, go to www.facebook.com/usfoods. Like the page and then click on the Next Top Product icon. Navigate the page until you find Lee’s recipe, and then click vote.
People can vote once every 24 hours through Sept. 7. Lee encouraged locals to help her out and to come down to the steakhouse to try the cobbler if they’re not convinced. Ten Mile Lake Resort and Steakhouse is located at 12303 County Highway 35 in rural Dalton.