Graham has been a resident of the Santa Clarita Valley since 1997 and is an avid participant in cooking competitions. She even goes as far as saying her job is entering cooking competitions along with her work as a recipe developer for companies. Despite the formality of her job, she has no formal training in cooking.
“They (technical cooks) know the science of a sauce. I only know how to make a sauce,” said Graham.
Graham’s cooking skills are a continuation of her father’s and grandma Pearl’s. She said that growing up she was grateful enough to have been surrounded by wonderful food that helped develop her palate.
She views cooking as a way to bring people together.
“Cooking for me is a way to bring that ‘a-ha’ moment or that pleasurable moment to another person,” said Graham, “and it also brings good memories to other people, too. Like I’ll have people I haven’t seen in 25 years and they’ll say, ‘I remember when you made me this.’ And to me that is the biggest compliment, that I impacted your life, to feed your soul.”
Over the years she has tasted enough ingredients and foods to have a natural sense of what will work well together.
Graham does not enter a cooking or recipe contest unless it is something that, “catches (her) eye and seems like a challenge.”
Before entering 505 Southwestern’s national recipe competition, she had never tasted their product. The contest required the usage of one of their products, so Graham drove down to Smart & Final and purchased a jar of their salsa. Graham always makes her salsa by scratch and loves her concoction, but upon sampling 505 Southwestern’s salsa, she said, “this tastes like me.” That one taste sealed the deal for her entry and she got to work to develop the award-winning recipe.
“Once I had tasted their product, I knew that I wanted to do it because I have a plethora of ideas and recipes that involve Southwestern flavors because that is my go-to way of cooking.”
Graham developed her Mexican-Asian-inspired Air Fryer Southwestern Salsa Verde Corn and Bacon Rangoons in just one day, in one go.
“The filling itself actually shocked me because it tasted so good the very first time,” said Graham. She also had never made rangoons before the development of this recipe.
The recipe included three of 505 Southwestern’s products, which Graham attributes to wanting extra points and wanting to challenge herself even further.
“Salsa is not just for chips,” said Graham. “You can incorporate salsa into so many dishes that you don’t think and it will elevate the flavor.”
A panel of judges made the final decision, awarding Graham with the grand prize for the contest. Graham is scheduled to attend the 505 Southwestern 25 years of flavor celebration on Sept. 15 in New Mexico as her prize, along with $2,500 in her pocket.
“I was proud of myself for this one,” said Graham.
Her love for cooking is something that she wants to hand down to the next generation and be able to be that one to help them learn a skill as essential as cooking.
“Kids need time for grandma to show them how to cook,” said Graham. “I think it’s really important for adults to slow down and impart to kids basic life skills. We don’t have to be a fast-food generation, we can raise one that really values some simple meals at home.”
Graham’s Air Fryer Southwestern Salsa Verde Corn and Bacon Rangoons recipe can be found at bit.ly/3C0dNAl.