Gilbert baker aims to be chocolate champ at State Fair
by Srianthi Perera – Oct. 21, 2011 09:19 AM
The Arizona Republic
It will be the 11th time the Gilbert man is trying to win the Ghirardelli Chocolate Competition at the fair. The rules limit entries to 10 ingredients plus the chocolate, making it difficult to incorporate as many flavors as Strom likes to.
“When I win it, I can retire, basically,” Strom said. “That’s a challenge.”
Retire from competing at the State Fair, maybe, but not retire from his passion of baking, which he soon will launch as a full-scale business.
Strom is a commercial real-estate developer-turned-baker because of the downturn in the economy. He teaches classes at Shar’s Bosch Kitchen Center in Gilbert.
“This market is so bad, nothing’s really going on. It’s given me the time to be creative and look at some opportunities to launch this on a much bigger scale,” he said.
His platform is a group of pies, cheesecakes, cookies and cakes, evolved from his casual, creative style. The recipes were taste-tested by staff at Patterson Elementary, where his wife, Brenda, works as a nurse.
The desserts are also in a cookbook. “Blue Ribbon Desserts,” published in January, takes its name from the dozens of blue ribbons the Stroms – yes, the whole family including their three children are good cooks and bakers – have earned over the years.
The ribbons didn’t come easy. The State Fair is a good testing ground, he said, because the level of competition is intense.
“It took me probably seven years before I got on the podium with a third- or second-place ribbon in the pie contest,” he said. “Either the crust wasn’t right or the consistency.”
Strom was always beaten by others, mostly women, who set the bar. They went on to participate in the million-dollar cooking competitions sponsored by the likes of Pillsbury or Crisco and earn top places.
“Year after year you see these people over and over again, and you know that they are good. And so when you can finally get on that level and win these premium contests, that gave me the confidence,” he said.
Strom’s baking accolades include the Pillsbury Softasilk Cake Championship in 1999 for his Pirate’s Tropical Treasure Cake; Crisco’s Pie Contest in 2001 for his “Coconut Cream Dream Pie” and in 2005 with his pineapple creation “Pirate’s Tropical Treasure Pie;” and the C&H Sugar Pie Contest in 2009 for his “Key Lime Coconut Custard Pie.”
He is a two-time national pie champion with his 2007 winner “Hawaiian Vanilla Custard Pie” and the 2010 winner at the APC Crisco National Pie Championships in Orlando for his “Dark Chocolate Raspberry Glacier Pie.”
In 2001, Stan and Brenda Strom were featured on Food Network’s FoodNation with Bobby Flay. The episode featured Arizona citrus and Strom’s Luscious Lemon Layer Pie that won the Marie Callender Pie Contest in 2000.
Strom entered the State Fair competitions on a dare from Brenda, already a veteran in the cookie competitions.
His first blue ribbon was for his grandmother’s recipe for Swedish Rye Bread, which was inspired by his paternal Grandma Joy. The oldest of 13 children from Kansas, she grew her own vegetables and toiled on the farm.
“It was a tough life, and she never complained,” Strom said.
At Christmas, a box of goodies would arrive in Arizona from Kansas.
“This box would come every Christmas and we would look forward to it because you can just smell the farm,” Strom recalled. “It was more about defining family roots. As we go through life today in such a hurry, it was kind of special.”
After Strom lost his grandmother in 1994, he thought about her legacy.
“It gave me an opportunity to reflect on that and take some of these family recipes and build upon it so I can pass it down to my kids,” he said.