Adventures in Nashville at the 47th Pillsbury Bake Off – Part 1

I just returned from my second “dance with the dough boy” as a finalist in the 47th Pillsbury Bake Off contest. For those of you who remember, I was lucky enough to participate as a finalist last year as well in Las Vegas. If you are not familiar with the Pillsbury Bake Off, it is a famous cooking and baking contest that highlights amateur home cooks, Pillsbury and other sponsors’ products, and offers a Million dollars as the grand prize. As you can imagine, Pillsbury receives tens of thousands of entries. (The rumor this year was that it was around 65,000 entries)

Me and the Pillsbury Doughboy in Nashville

This is kind of embarrassingly obsessive, but I entered 27 recipes I total this year. Here is my “top 100” finalist recipe, which is gluten free!

Lauren's Cherry Vanilla Dutch Pancake

Cherry-Vanilla Dutch Pancake

I was pretty excited to be competing with a gluten-free “Dutch baby” pancake that looks gorgeous, is easy to make, and tastes amazing.  Nobody will even know that it is gluten-free, unless you tell them.

So, I flew to Nashville with some hope, a few nerves, and a massive hankering for “hot chicken”, which I had lusted after heard all about on the Food Network.

First, I met a fellow Finalist and her mother in the lobby of the beautiful Omni hotel (the venue for the Pillsbury Bake Off).  We decided to hit the restaurant in the hotel that is famous for having a biscuit bar with all sorts of toppings, but alas, no hot chicken.

I had a lovely salad of arugula, locally grown beets, goat cheese, and candied pecans, topped with a delicious honey vinaigrette.  The piece de resistance was the buttery, flaky sweet potato biscuit with toasted pecans on top!

My Lunch Biscuit

My Lunch SaladAfter lunch, I checked out the famous letterpress print shop that is attached to the hotel.  As a former Printmaking major, my love of prints and the process of printing is near and dear to my heart.  I love that this studio, which is famous for creating posters for the musicians and shows in Nashville, also happened to create the aprons we wore in the Bake Off contest!  I may have bought a few souvenirs there…..

Hatch Show Print Poster

More Hatch Posters

The Hatch Printing Press

At this point, I got a much awaited text from my friend Michele Kusma, who had been in the 46th Pillsbury Bake Off with me in Vegas.  She had brought along her husband and daughter this time, and they were all game for finding the best hot chicken in Nashville, with hopes of hitting the Grand Ole Opry afterwards.  So, we grilled the bellhop on how to find the most authentic chicken in Nashville.  Apparently, there is a saying in Nashville, that goes something like:

“If you didn’t fear for your life, then you haven’t had real hot chicken.”

Well I am here to tell you that I have had the real deal, authentic, best ever “hot chicken.” It was life altering.

Nashville Hot Chicken
Hot Chicken, a Nashville speciality!

Lauren and Michelle Outside the Prince's Hot Chicken

If you have never had it, “hot chicken” is this crispy, almost shellacked, spicy, juicy, fragrant chicken that is unlike anything I have ever had before.  I am quite okay with all things spicy, so I ordered the “medium” spice level.  If you are at all a fan of heat, I would go at least for medium.  It was quite spicy, but not unpleasantly so.  Not really sure who gets the XX-Hot…  I would recommend Prince’s whole heartedly….if you don’t mind a long wait, barely any tables, and a huge line all day (and night) long.  The chicken is totally worth it, and the staff is super friendly!  Warning: the area is a bit sketchy, and I do not want to be held responsible if you are not happy about that.  You might have to physically fight for a table.  Full disclosure and all….

Once we finally convinced a taxi to come pick us up from Prince’s (a monumental task), we headed over to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, which Michele was familiar with from their original store in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio.  Cooling down the residual chicken heat with these inventive ice creams was the best idea ever! After tasting about 8 flavors,  I settled on  the Bangkok Peanut, since I was 600 miles away from my son with the peanut allergy.  I am sneaky like that.  This flavor blew my mind with it’s familiar creamy peanut buttery-ness that was enhanced by undertones of coconut and spice.  Delicious and addictive!

Bangkok Peanut Ice Cream from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream

You can see the list of unusual flavor combinations above!  Jeni’s is a true must visit, when in Nashville or any other city that is lucky enough to have one (Please come to Northern VA, Jeni!).

This time we wised up and made our cab wait for us at the ice cream store.  So, we headed directly over to the Grand Ole Opry in Opryland.  Due to the daylight savings time change, our one hour time difference from VA to Tennessee, and our hot chicken adventure taking FOREVER, we missed the last tour of the stage area for the day….We did get to see the outside, hop over to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, check out their beautiful botanical gardens, and shop a bit at the outlets across the street.  I just want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Kusma family, and they made me feel like a part of their group, even though we feared for our lives for large portions of the day.  I just love Michele, and I hope we get to cook together or just hang out again soon.

Some photos from Opryland:

Outside the Opryland Hotel

Inside Opryland 1
Inside the Opryland hotel

Inside Opryland 2

Inside Opryland 3

We returned to our beautiful hotel, stuffed and exhausted.  But since we were only in Nashville this one time, the Kusma’s and I went out to dinner to do more eating.  This time we were accompanied by some more dear friends (fellow finalists as well) from the previous Pillsbury Bake Off – Arlene Erlbach, and Mindy Beaumont.  At the tables surrounding us, there were many other friends from the Pillsbury Bake Off family, and it was kind of like one big, festive party in the restaurant.  We retired to our rooms, ready to face the first official day of Bake Off business, which I will talk about more in part 2…..To be continued!

My room in the Opryland Hotel

My lovely room at the Omni. Good night!

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