Following her retirement, Lori McLain ('82) decided to take a chance and enter a recipe contest.
She wasn't a chef by trade -- McLain earned a bachelor's in journalism with a concentration in advertising from UNT, where she was involved in the advertising club and student advertising competitions. After graduation, she worked full-time as a copywriter and spent her career in the advertising industry.
Still, McLain managed to win that recipe contest -- and the free trip that came with it. Since then, she's been on a competitive -- and rather tasty -- culinary journey that has taken her to the World Food Championships, the biggest competition in food sport.
This year, she won.
"I am a foodie and love to try new fun food while traveling and at festivals," McLain says. "It's fun to develop recipes using bits and pieces of great foodie experiences."
For as long as she can remember, McLain has loved creating new dishes and even incorporates many creative journalism concepts when coming up with recipes.
From naming a dish to describing it to writing it down as a form of record, she has applied all her various knowledge to her cooking -- and it's more than paid off.
In 2012, she was a finalist in the Pillsbury Bake Off and started competing in the World Food Championships. She has competed in numerous categories for sandwiches, recipes and chili, and has made it to the top 10 seven times.
This year, her spot in the top 10 turned into No. 1.
McLain competed in the soup category and used her personal cooking style known as "comfort fusion" -- putting a comfort food spin into another type of food.
She was joined by her husband who served as her sous chef during the competition. Their soup was required to have an "X Factor," or technique that makes the dish unique, so the couple used a microwave pressure cooker to quickly cook pork for the soup. Additionally, each contestant was required to use vanilla bean as a special ingredient.
As time ran out, the end result was a vanilla-ale infused spicy pork and vegetable soup with a bacon pepper jack cornbread pinwheel roll on the side.
All those years of competing led McLain to her first-place finish.
"I've qualified and competed every year since WFC began but never won a category until this incredible year," she says, adding that her perseverance and faith were the biggest contributors to her success.
And she's not done yet. McLain will now move on to compete at Final Table, a cook-off against every category champion from WFC in which the overall winner will receive a $100,000 prize. The competition will take place from April 28 through May 1 in Lake Murray, South Carolina.
McLain is currently preparing for the competition and has found new joy in cooking.
"I'm a home cook going up against some majorly talented folks," she says, "but I plan to apply my Mean Green Spirit to aim high -- and win."
"Mean Green" Texas Green Chili Recipe
This green chili is made with tender ground pork shoulder that has been seasoned and seared, then cooked in a rich verde sauce made from roasted tomatillos, poblanos and jalapeno peppers.
For the verde sauce
- poblano peppers
- jalapeno peppers
- Make your verde sauce first. Preheat your oven.
- Slice the peeled and rinsed tomatillos in half through the horizontal center (not up and down) and arrange on a lightly oiled baking dish with the skin sides up.
- Place the peppers on a separate lightly oiled baking sheet skin sides up.
- Bake the peppers and tomatillos about 12-15 minutes until skin side is blistering on both the tomatillos and peppers. Rotate the baking sheets if needed. You may need up to 20 minutes, depending on your proximity to the heat element.
- Remove from heat and cool slightly. Peel off the pepper skins and discard them. You can peel off the tomatillos skins if you'd like, but I leave them on.
- Add the tomatillos and peppers to a food processor. Process until smooth. Set aside for now.
For the chili
- olive oil
- ground boneless pork shoulder
- ancho chili powder optional
- salt and pepper to taste
- Texas sweet onion chopped
- chicken stock
- juice from 1 large lime
- Heat a large pot to medium heat and add the olive oil.
- Season the pork with ancho powder, salt and pepper, then sear a minute or two , until nicely browned, stirring until no longer pink.
- Add the onions and stir. Cook them down about five minutes to soften.
- Stir in the garlic and cook another minute.
- Add the reserved verde sauce along with ½ cup chicken stock, or up to a cup if you'd like a thinner chili verde. Bring to a quick boil, then reduce the heat and cover. Simmer for two hours (you may need longer), until the pork is fork tender.
- Remove the chili verde from the heat and stir in the chopped cilantro and juice from one lime.
- Serve in bowls and top with your fixings - Extra limes, sliced jalapeno peppers, fresh chopped cilantro, crumbly white cheese, spicy chili flakes