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The Ungarnished Truth: A Cooking Contest Memoir Paperback – Bargain Price, March 3, 2009

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade; Reprint edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 042522578X
  • ASIN: B004E3XEOI
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,287,499 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this blasé memoir, Seattle author Mathews (Ambassador to the Penguins) recounts her journey from kitchen amateur to winner of the million-dollar 1998 Pillsbury Bake-Off. Mathews, a married graphic designer, had been halfheartedly entering and winning recipe contests since 1980, such as one for REI recreational equipment, in which she had to combine packets of freeze-dried food into a semblance of a meal, or the state Beef Cook-Off, where she placed second for Siberian Beef. However, the Pillsbury Bake-Off is the mother of all recipe competitions, and Mathews cannily reworked a tried-and-true halibut recipe using the company's Old El Paso salsa and some chicken thighs and came up with the reliable Salsa Couscous Chicken. Summoned to Orlando, Fla., where the finalists are royally and publicly pampered, Mathews dutifully re-created her 30-Minute Main Dish and was stunned to be singled out by host Alex Trebek as the winner of $1 million. Her memoir has a curiously unimpassioned quality, padded with details about visiting Disney World with the other contestants, choosing presentable outfits and becoming a grandmother. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A page-turner."
-Seattle Post- Intelligencer

"Enthusiastic and sharp."
-Kirkus Reviews

"With graceful writing, Mathews takes us behind the scenes at the Bake-Off."
-Minneapolis Star Tribune

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Customer Reviews

I truly enjoy hearing a person tell their story and Ellie does it with ease.
Mrs. Johnson
I am not an contest-entering cook--nor am I a fan of all the Pillsbury products--so Matthews' subtle and not-so-subtle digs at the Pillsbury contest don't bother me.
I feel as if she's a friend after reading this book and I appreciate someone who can tell a good true story without relying on dirt and gossip to do so.
K. A. Sinacori

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Davies on April 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
It wasn't until I read how emphatically Mathews refuses to fit the winner stereotype that I realized I even had one. Onstage, when her name was called, she failed to scream and giggle and tear up with elation and simultaneous modest disbelief, as I thought we all had learned to do, watching Miss America pageants or American Idol. In fact, Emcee Alex Trebek had to suggest, in a whisper, that Ellie give him a hug. A good sport, she complied, as she did when they asked her to fly to Los Angeles to appear next day on something she believed was called the Rosy O'Donald Show.
But Ellie never did buy a Mercedes or first-class round-the-world airline tickets with her million dollars. She doesn't have a celebrity kitchen either, even though she had a perfect excuse to create one. Since winning the contest, she and her husband moved and had to remodel a kitchen. Six-burner range? She couldn't remember using even four burners all at once. Sub-Zero refrigerator, billed as a "monument to food preservation"? No.
The memoir's subtitle suggests her grounded perspective: "A Woman, A Chicken Dinner, A Million Dollars." She's perfectly clear what comprises her real life, including illness and death and birth and rediscovery. On the other hand, devising a winning recipe isn't nothing. True, she needed to do something with the boneless skinless chicken thighs she had in the freezer before leaving on a long trip, but that eventual stroke of genius was preceded by a lot of analysis and testing of other possibilities. Nevertheless, the Bake-Off, ultimately, is not life or death: it's a chicken recipe. Ultimately, it's Ellie Mathews who is most interesting, Ellie and her observing eye.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Lee Mellott TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ellie Mathews writes an engrossing memoir which centers around her capturing the one million dollar prize at the Pillsbury Bake-Off. Through out the 277 page book Ellie shares her experiences revealing her strength of character and modesty. I am not fond of cooking, but Ellie makes it sound like developing her recipe for this and other contests was easy. By the end of the book, I actually felt like I had a shot at winning cooking contests and was ready to start cooking up a storm. Then it was like reality set in when confronted by spices and cooking pots. Ummm,well maybe no contests for me. But, it was very interesting to read how her recipe ideas evolve. I love that she focuses on real food, simple preparation, easy to do. And she has a conscious - not to much butter, light on the sugar etc.

Ellie writes very clearly about her feelings. What was going through her mind when they revealed that she was the winner. It is interesting to read her reactions because they are so different than mine would be. I would be screaming and jumping up and down if I won, but she barely manages a glimpse of a smile and a brief hug with the host. I think she was so overwhelmed, she didn't know what to do. She shares how she doesn't feel like she was adequate on some of the shows she was on to promote her recipe. She was so eager to please the Pillsbury people, to not let them be disappointed. She fully develops her character and though at the beginning of the book I felt like saying what is wrong with you. Why aren't you excited? Soon I realized this was Ellie, she was very excited but this is her way of reacting. I grew to really embrace her character. Her sense of right from wrong. Of living frugally. Of helping others. This is Ellie and there is so much to love about her.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Houseworkhater on April 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I could not put this book down--I read the entire thing in half a day. I love memoirs of unfamous people, ordinary folks who've got extraordinary stories to tell. I have never read anything about cook-offs, and this was an interesting glimpse inside the minds--and kitchens--of seemingly unlikely contestants. I confess, it made me want to get in the kitchen and cook up something new, thinking, "If she could do it, so can I!" (As I sit and munch on take-out pizza, I realize that's not going to happen anytime soon, but the book left the illusion that it could be possible...) Admittedly, I wanted to shake Ms Mathews at times for not showing the cliche' emotions we expect from "winners," but I was also sympathetic to her plight, and happy that she was able to explain herself in this book beyond what people saw on television or read in reviews. She's anything but unemotional, as evidenced by the loving way she constantly refers to her husband, and I had tears as she described meeting her granddaughter for the first time, and being reunited with a long-lost friend. I commend her for staying true to herself, and I look forward to trying the recipe on my family, though I'm not even sure I know what a currant looks like! Well done!
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Killian HALL OF FAME on June 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I have rarely spent so much time with such an uncompromisingly dour individual, but that's the eccentric charm of Ellie Mathews' memoir. It's like spending a weekend with a bunch of Calvin Coolidges or those Maine backwoodsmen Stephen King writes about. You don't go to Mathews for charm, you go because she tells you what she thinks.

She shades the truth a bit I think by trying to elide all references to when exactly she won this prize. It wasn't a recent win, but you wouldn't know it, for she manages to leave out every date, and only when she wound up appearing on the Rosie O'Donnell show did I detect how old her stories are, for that show hasn't been on the air for years! So, she may be straighforward about some things, but don't let her fool you, this contest occurred in the last century.

Since reading it I have seen the bootleg footage of her win and I can see why she felt forced to write this book as an apologia. All over the world people watched her and saw a frozen, uninterested person who looked too prim and bored to get into the backslapping the award ordinarily provokes. She had a superior air about her which didn't sit well with the folks at home, but after reading her book I do believe her explanation, that some people are warm and some are cold and she's the latter. It's a fascinating confession from the sort of person who is perpetually under-represented in our society, the competitive wallflower. Why go on the Bake Off if you don't want fame and money? I still don't understand her motivations. Everywhere she goes people do the wrong thing all around her. On every show she begs the host, please don't ask me about the money, and yet they ignore her plea and harass her about what she did with the million dollars.
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