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Crab cakes with a winning twist

— The judges thought it worked, too.

“Mary Ann Lee’s Potato Crusted Crab Cake is an easy to prepare, savory new way to eat crab cakes. We chose this recipe because of ease of preparation while still creating a creative, tasty dish. It was an instant hit with our chef team and we commend her on her creation,” said John Degges, executive chef of Phillips Foods, Inc.

This was far from Lee’s first foray into competitive cooking. In fact, she’s been entering recipe contests and cook-offs for 20 years and said she’ll enter about 25 to 30 a year.

“I’ve had a lot of wins,” said Lee. “It just keeps me busy and I enjoy doing it.”

Her very first cooking challenge was to bake an apple pie. While she didn’t win that time, she was hooked.

Lee’s recipes have won contests sponsored by magazines like “Paula Deen Magazine,” large food corporations and food associations, so a quick Google search brings up scores of dessert, appetizer and entrée recipes with Lee’s name on them.

“The contest will say maybe five or 10 ingredients or will tell you to use a certain brand,” said Lee. “I go through my files … and change something or make something similar. They have to be your original recipes.”

These days she sticks to contests that only require a recipe or the occasional photo, but years ago, Lee took competitive cooking to a whole other level.

“It’s exciting to go to these cook-offs,” said Lee. “It’s interesting, exciting, you’re kind of like the star of the show when you go there. There may be five people … or 100 but you still get to have your picture taken [and] prepare your recipe.”

Lee has found herself in some pretty prestigious (and infamous) competitions. She participated in a national beef contest, Paul Newman’s contest and battled her way through Pillsbury cook-offs twice.

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