FALMOUTH, Maine — Parents pass a lot of things down to their children. For Jessica Grearson and her daughter Ellie Sepat, the inheritance includes a knack for winning cooking competitions.
On March 10, Sepat was crowned U.S. youth champion at the National Festival of Breads. The biennial bake-off, hosted by the Kansas Wheat Commission, is the largest amateur bread-making contest in the country.
“As long as I’ve been allowed in the kitchen [I’ve been baking],” Sepat, 16, said this week.
Sepat was named youth champ for her “Wild Maine Healthy Blueberry Banana Nut Bread,” which she said has less sugar than similar breads and is rich in healthy ingredients like almond meal, pecans, chia seeds and Maine blueberries.
“Honestly, it tastes just as good as the regular banana bread, but it has what I think is a better texture,” Sepat said.
But it was more than the texture that led judges to select Sepat as best baker.
Jordan Hildebrand, program assistant for the Kansas Wheat Commission, said there were seven other youth entries in this year’s competition, but Sepat’s recipe was “by far the best.”
“[Sepat’s recipe] probably would have been able to compete at the adult level,” Hildebrand said.
Grearson won the first-ever Festival of Breads in 2009. The contest includes two entry pools, adult and youth. Adult finalists go to Kansas to participate in a bake-off competition; the youth champion is named by judges on the basis of recipes and instructions that are submitted and then tested.
Grearson said cooking has long been a hobby and “stress reliever” in her everyday life, and eventually became something fun to do with both her daughters, Ellie and Emma.
“I introduced them to the concept when they were little,” Grearson said.
After she started entering competitions, her daughters decided to follow suit. So far, they’ve competed in a total of about 20 cooking and baking events.
Sepat said she’s particularly proud of winning an air-bake cookie challenge that brought her to New York, and a taco recipe contest where she created a pair of taco “dinosaurs.”
In Kansas, Sepat was chosen unanimously by nearly 50 taste-testing judges, and won a prize of $400. Sepat said she will put that money toward an even greater extracurricular passion, the speech and debate team at Falmouth High School, where she is a junior. She will be traveling with the team to Texas in June, and said the bread from her bread will help pay for her ticket.
“Baking is a hobby, but speech is my activity,” Sepat said.
Meanwhile, Sepat and Grearson will continue to bake and dream up new recipes. They also are on the lookout for future contests.
“We’re working on a maple-syrup sticky bun recipe, that one’s still in the making,” Grearson said. “Maybe we’ll have it ready for the next Kansas tournament.”