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From the Kitchen: Driving the DMV bakers to compete

“How’s my driving?” A query I might pose to the personnel at the Kanawha City Division of Motor Vehicles.

But two weeks ago, my question to them was, “How’s my judging?”

I was asked to be a judge at the invitation of Natalie Holcomb, public relations representative at the DMV.

The occasion was an employee bake-off where 20 contestants outdid themselves in presenting a luscious and tempting table spread.

But I didn’t have to go it alone. Holcomb also reached out to notable individuals whose businesses have a strong emphasis on desserts.

Joining in the sugar-filled afternoon were Minoli Stavrulakis and his co-worker Leo Mavridis from Sokolata in South Charleston, and Mario Sommella, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Caffe Romeo on Bridge Road.

The baking event was part of the annual Public Service Recognition Week, a celebration to honor all the Kanawha City DMV workers. The theme this year was the 1980s and the desserts reflected that era.

All the entries showed creativity and thought, including a ghoulish green Ghostbusters face cake, plenty of Pacman reproductions and one clever non-cake, a Q*bert, fashioned from perfectly square, clear multicolored stacked gelatin blocks.

Besides the cakes and Q*bert, there were also three cookie entries and two cream pies. We judges enjoyed each bite and the decision for the top proved to be very challenging.

The cakes were eye-catchingly decorated and most of all, moist and flavorful. That was a main point.

We tasted pineapple, strawberry, cherry, chocolate, coconut, and lemonade cakes with creamy toppings; raspberry cream pie; banana cream pie; peanut butter cookies; no-bake cookies and cookie cups.

It was difficult to reach a conclusion on just which single dessert we would choose to go back for seconds, often one of the points to help with judging.

Thank goodness the final tally went to Holcomb and company to determine these winners:

First place, cake: Trenten Samuel: second place, cake: Regina Ballard and Sharon Petry; first place, pie: Mary Jarrell (5 stars); second place, pie: Janet Cooper; first place, cookie: Tracy Lawrence; second place, cookie: Erica Belcher; and “other” category: Gretchen Steele. All were handed award certificates and bragging rights.

The whole concept of the PSRW, which began several years ago, was to boost morale of the department and to promote fellowship through friendly competition.

Besides the bake-off, other facets of the week were bagels day; photo booth all week for serious and whimsical photos; a candy buffet; classic ’80s themed board games set up in the break room; costumes depicting the ’80s were encouraged and carried out to the max (is that an ’80s phrase?); an all-employee luncheon; an honoree lunch for 20-plus years of service workers and more.

There was a second chore in store for us judges. After going round one with the baking contest, we had the pleasure of deciding the “Fate of the Decorated Doors.”

We were guided through a maze that is the DMV back offices that not many see. We needed the exercise, after the treat-tasting.

Each department had worked overtime to impress with their renditions of the 1980s posted on their front doors.

One even constructed a vintage stand-alone, full-size Pacman arcade game from cardboard.

Each door was a work of art mixed with imagination. And all on a budget that had to stay under $20, a strict rule of the contest.

The thought than went into the presentations for the doors and the cooking expertise demonstrated in the bake-off blew us away. They hit us with their best shot (another ’80s phrase).

This came from an establishment that the majority of the general public think is just a place where the most that happens is the issuance of driver and vehicle licenses. Who knew?

Following our dessert judging, the entries were sliced and all DMV employees were invited for sweets and ice cream The consensus of the judges was the hope that we are invited back, too.

•••

Calling all talented and avid amateur cooks, professional cooks, non-cooks, halfway interested cooks and general-all-around persons who enjoy being outside at the Capitol Market in the warm spring weather.

The free cooking classes, “Let’s Get Cooking,” hosted by the market’s executive director Nichole Greene and sponsored by AARP, have begun for this season.

Corporate chef Paul Smith is once again taking the outdoor kitchen to culinary heights. The event, with the formidable trio of Greene, AARP, and Smith, brings a bright spot into our downtown.

Each session is themed, with cooking demonstrations to match the theme, recipe hand-outs and, best of all, samplings of all that Chef Paul prepares.

No registration is necessary. Just show up at the market, rain or shine. The next class is this Saturday at noon and will run about an hour.

There will be two classes each month — one on a Tuesday and one on a Saturday, both starting at noon.

Reach Judy Grigoraci at

judy.g@suddenlink.net.