Roy recipe contest guru turns passion for experimental cooking into big prizes

Sunday , October 22, 2017 - 5:00 AM

MARK SAAL, Standard-Examiner Staff

ROY — If you’re going to have your own personal motto, it may as well involve turning mealtime into money.

Shauna Havey is a self-described “cooking-contest enthusiast.” Since 2014, the 40-year-old Roy woman has entered somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 food-related contests all over the country.

“My motto is: I like to turn dinner into 500 bucks,” Havey said. “But if I don’t win, I don’t consider it a waste — because we eat 99 percent of what I make anyway.”

Not that Havey loses all that often. She estimates that of those 300 national contests entered, she’s won or been a finalist in at least a third of them.

“I think I’ve had a pretty good average,” she said. “Some of our ladies in this cooking-contest community have been doing this since the 1980s. For me to come in and have that kind of a record, it got some attention from people.”

Havey, who was born and raised in Ogden, attended Ogden High School before earning a psychology degree from Weber State University, with a minor in nutrition.

The food-contest guru wasn’t always a success in the kitchen — Chad Havey, her husband, said their dinners used to consist of Hamburger Helper and canned chili. Needless to say, Havey has come a long way.

“My friends and my husband are always saying, ‘What are you going to do with this? You are so talented,’” Havey said.

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‘COOKING AND TAKING PHOTOS’

It was Havey’s husband who first convinced her to start a food blog, called “Have Yourself a Time.” Shortly thereafter, Havey entered — and won — her first contest. The prize was a professional-grade digital camera.

“Once I figured out how to use it, I started getting into food photography and started seeing more cooking contests out there,” she said. “I just figured I’d try my luck at it.”

By day, Havey is a disability examiner for the Social Security Administration. But after work and on weekends, she obsesses about food contests and spends her time developing recipes and photographing food.

It’s hard work, but she doesn’t mind it.

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“Usually, that’s how I spend my weekends — cooking and taking photos,” she said. “I work full time in Salt Lake, so that doesn’t leave me much time. But I put eight hours a day in on weekends.”

That hard work has paid off. Over the last three years, Havey’s recipes and photos have won her and her family all-expenses-paid trips throughout the country, including seven or eight trips to New York City.

“I’ve won everything from crockpots and free groceries to toasters, KitchenAid mixers, coupons for free food, a year’s supply of eggs and other random stuff,” she said. “I’ve probably won somewhere around $50,000 or $60,000 in cash and prizes.”

In other words, this food hobby of hers has helped put food on the table.

Thus far, Havey’s biggest win was $5,000, paid out by the California Walnut Board. The winning entry was vegan tacos featuring walnuts as the meat. She took the family on a Disney cruise with that payout.

“I’d like to win $10,000 someday, but I haven’t done that yet,” she said.

A NEW DISH A WEEK

Havey’s family doesn’t know what to make of her hobby, but one thing is for sure — they get a lot of tasty samples.

“It’s really cool,” her 15-year-old son, Mason, said. “She’s a way good cook.”

His brother, 10-year-old Luke, said their mom makes a new dish for a contest just about every week.

“Every Wednesday she comes home with an ingredient I’ve never heard of, and it’s always good,” he said. “I think, ‘How does she come up with this stuff?’ No matter what it is, it’s amazing. I can’t think of a single thing I didn’t like — except maybe a breakfast pizza she made once.”

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Chad Havey said he comes home to three or four amazing recipes every Saturday. “I don’t know where she gets it all,” he said. “And her enchiladas are out of this world.”

Right now, Havey is working on a recipe for Fig Cheesecake Bars for a contest that could win her a trip to Boston. 

And after that? A sandwich contest for a deli meat and cheese company that earns the winner a trip to Napa Valley and $5,000 cash.

And then of course there’s the upcoming famed Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest, back after a three-year absence. “I’ve got 20 blue tubes of Pillsbury dough in the refrigerator, and I’m thinking about how I can use it,” she said.

MAGICAL EXPERIENCES

Although Havey is an occasional guest on cooking segments for local TV news programs, she doesn’t have aspirations to have her own cooking show — although she wouldn’t mind appearing on the occasional “Chopped” or “Guy’s Grocery Games” food reality show. Her ultimate goal is to eventually do freelance food photography. 

Indeed, Havey hopes to retire from her state job in another seven years and then spend more time on her passion for combining food and photography. “But until then, I’ll just have to enjoy winning crock pots,” she said.

Well, winning crock pots and taking her family with her on her many adventures. This summer’s trips, for example, included going to Kansas for the National Festival of Breads and to Tennessee for the National Cornbread Festival.

One of Havey’s most memorable wins came in August 2016, when she was a runner-up in a Food Network magazine contest, where her photo earned a full-page spread.

“I had all kinds of people calling me, saying they saw it,” she said. “Food Network has the best photographers, the best of everything, so for them to notice was really cool.”

Havey’s second-favorite win? The Fisher Nuts contest, where she met “Iron Chef” Alex Guarnaschelli.

“She made my recipe in her kitchen, and I got to meet her sous-chef,” Havey said. “It was just magical.”

Chad Havey said it’s difficult to explain just how magical such trips are. They’re flown into town, picked up by limousines, treated like celebrities, enjoy dinners with famous chefs at high-class restaurants, and Shauna Havey is even introduced as this great chef.

“You couldn’t buy these experiences,” Chad Havey said. “It’s kind of shocking for these two people from Roy, Utah, to be treated like that.”

Havey’s secret? She said she’s not afraid of failure when it comes to experimenting with recipes and admits she has “a lot of strange ingredients in my house.” And she hopes to pass that fearless trait on to her two sons, showing them they can do crazy things and it’ll all work out.

“I grew up being taught to always be practical, with results you’ll expect,” she said. “I’ve done all that, but I want my kids to not be practical. I want them to do what they want to do to make them happy.”

If there’s one drawback, Havey said that because of her kitchen success, her husband and sons aren’t particularly interested in cooking.

“I’ve kind of enabled them,” she said. “My teenager will say, ‘Mom, I want toast,’ and I’ll say ‘So, make toast. You can make it.’ And he’ll say, ‘But it’s not YOUR toast.’

“They don’t go in the kitchen much.”

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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