Before the pandemic, Annapolis food blogger Robin Daumit was best known for winning three Food Network shows. She’s won all three, including “Guy’s Grocery Games,” Guy Fieri’s supermarket rush that has more in common with bumper cars than Michelin-starred cuisine.
Daumit had fun, she said, but found limited satisfaction in “trying to knock people off in 45 minutes.”
After the COVID hit, Daumit said, those opportunities became less attractive.
“I don’t do anything that has negative energy anymore,” she said. “I said to my husband, ‘I don’t even watch the news. You tell me if there’s anything I need to know.
Daumit has invested all of his screen time in creating content for his social media platforms and Whip and Dine, a blog she started eight years ago as a fun way to catalog family recipes, knowing that her own mother had died without leaving any written recipes. But last July, a casting director messaged her on Instagram.
Would she consider returning to television, the casting director asked, not for 45 minutes of slash and dash with celebrity chefs, but for a carefully crafted, contestant-focused cooking show filmed in Virginia for PBS?
She said yes because she had a hunch that turned out to be correct.
“This show was totally different,” she said.
Daumit spent September 2021 in bucolic Ruther Glen, Va., cooking in a cavernous hillside barn with nine other contestants on “The Great American Recipe” the producers of a Virginia Public Media show hope to become America’s answer to “The Great British Baking Show”. The finale airs Friday and pits Daumit against two other home cooks who, like her, come from recent immigrant families viewers have known well since the show premiered on June 24.
Silvia Martinez and Foo Nguyen are hardly enemies to crush with a shopping cart. Daumit considers them more like extended family members who taught him to love Mexican stew pozole and use fish sauce liberally.
“It was like being part of each other’s lives,” Daumit said as he picked up his pink silicone cellphone case. “We still communicate on a group text every day.”
Martinez and his family have COVID, Daumit was sad to learn last week. Nguyen continued to offer advice on Asian cuisine, just like he did for the Week 5 episode “Recipe Swap.” Daumit took on this challenge by grabbing the red snapper. Looking across the barn, Nguyen called her, “a surgeon in the kitchen.”
Daumit’s co-winner for the episode was Nikki Tomaino-German, a young mom from Boise, Idaho, who baked Pumpkin Maple Bread, a tasty treat that Daumit said she baked for the teachers of his children.
As “Great American Recipe” viewers learn, Daumit’s culinary wheelhouse puts a Mediterranean spin on Chesapeake Bay seafood. While her father was of German and Scandinavian descent, her maternal grandparents immigrated from Syria via Ellis Island.
Growing up in Annapolis with three sisters, Daumit’s home was always full of friends, family and labneh, a homemade Middle Eastern yogurt that aids digestion. Many of her family friends were Greek and Italian who liked to experiment with new ways of cooking foods that were considered more traditionally American, such as her mother’s Thanksgiving stuffing made with sage and bagels.
“They never get soggy,” Daumit explained.
Her education in the kitchen was made up of trial and error at home. Daumit never went to culinary school. Instead, she spent three decades as a stylist, cutting hair in her home salon, which allowed her to be a “stay-at-home, working mom.”
One of his sisters married Ken Upton, the owner of Ken’s Creative Kitchen in Annapolis. Daumit’s four children therefore worked in the restaurant business. His son Omar is now Ken’s executive chef, overseeing the food for up to 10 weddings a weekend.
After her youngest daughter Leah graduated from high school, Daumit made a bold choice in her forties: she sold her house and moved to Brazil, where her eldest son Tomio was studying. It was there that she learned to cook moqueca, a Brazilian fish stew that impressed the judges in episode 6. And for episode 7, which aired on August 5, Daumit dared to make stuffed squid with spinach in 60 minutes.
“My hands look like Popeye on a bad day,” Daumit joked, when Tiffany Derry, a “Top Chef” alum who now runs a Texas hotel chain, and New York restaurateur Leah Cohen stopped by. his cooking station. Daumit’s gloved hands were covered in the green goo she had trouble pushing into the cephalopods’ tubes.
“I expect perfectly cooked calamari from you, Robin,” Cohen warned.
Days of the week
Update you on the biggest news of the day before the evening ride.
Unfortunately, Derry, Cohen and Graham Elliot, the James Beard nominee who rounded out the judging panel, decided his calamari was under-fried. (At home, Daumit recommends grilling calamari.) Later in the same episode, Elliot warned that his Brussels sprouts were so undercooked that his grandchildren hid them under the plate.
“Those Brussels sprouts were my undoing,” Daumit admitted.
And even. The judges instead opted to send home Dan Rinaldi, a Rhode Island firefighter whose grandma’s calzones came out of the oven too dry. Daumit, Martinez and Nguyen all survived to cook one more episode.
Since “The Great American Recipe” first aired in May, Daumit has seen his blog traffic soar to around 9,000 views per month. All of her social media followers are active, and she has self-published a cookbook, “Muffin Madness.” The official “Great American Recipe” cookbook comes out August 19.
Daumit can’t reveal much about the final episode, but said she “got goosebumps just thinking about it”, and cautioned it was a bit teary; her normally carefully applied eyeliner smudged her cheeks.
“There’s something very meaningful to me in that,” Daumit said. “And it has nothing to do with winning or losing.”
The final episode of “The Great American Recipe” airs at 9:45 p.m. Friday on Maryland Public Television.