The $25,000 salad bowl made of pizza

Her pizza salad bowl won a national pizza chain’s big prize
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

To avid cooker and baker Mary Beth Desens, recipes are more like guidelines.

“Everything I make starts with a recipe but I’m not that great at sticking with recipes,” she said.

Growing up on a farm in the Crandon area, the library media specialist for the Cedar Grove-Belgium School District learned to cook through her regular babysitter as a child, her grandmother, Ruth Kincaid.

“My grandma was a fantastic cook. She could cook anything,” Desens said.

On Sundays, Kincaid made loaves of bread and dinner rolls for the entire week.

Desens cooks much like her grandmother, eyeballing ingredients instead of using exact amounts. As a result, the family hasn’t been able to mimic Kincaid’s meatloaf.

“My grandma was a pinch of this, a dash of that,” Desens said. “She wasn’t one to measure either.”

Desens cooks or bakes nearly every day, with her concoctions running the gamut as she and her husband David crave all kinds of cuisine.

It was a dish she never made before that won her a national contest last month.

Desens, who had only entered county fair contests growing up, was up north for her nephew’s wedding when she saw Papa Murphy’s Bake Outside the Lines Contest on social media and figured, “I would love to win a $50 Papa Murphy’s gift card,” she said.

She and David frequent Papa Murphy’s in Saukville and West Bend. Desens is a member of the chain’s text club.

All that was required to enter was filling out an online form. She didn’t have to make anything, send a video of her making anything or have her dish tasted.

Desens came up with the pizza salad bowl — salad inside a tortilla-shaped pizza for the Mealtime Anytime category.

“If you could have a taco salad bowl, why couldn’t you have a pizza salad bowl?” she asked.

In July, she took a call from an unknown number — she rarely picks those up — that told her she was a finalist and to check her email.

Desens got her $50 gift card and was in the running for much more.

Daily voting on Twitter and Instagram determined the winners. Desens figured her chances were low, given the scale of the event.

“Who wins a nationwide contest?” she asked. “You share it with your friends and you hope for the best.”

One day her phone pinged with a message on her family group chat from a niece telling Desens she won.

She checked Papa Murphy’s Facebook page and her email, which confirmed her victory.

Desens won $25,000 in cash and a $1,000 Papa Murphy’s gift card.

She texted her husband David at work, and he was thrilled. He already loves pizza so much that for his birthday he asked to eat pizza all day. Desens made breakfast pizza, then barbecue chicken pizza for lunch. They had pizza at the Speakeasy in Newburg for dinner.

“It still seems surreal to me,” Desens  said of winning the contest. The biggest thing she won before was a quarter of a pig from the Tri-County Pork Producers.

The gift card and check have yet to arrive in the mail, but “our close friends have asked when the pizza party is going to be,” she said.

The money will come in handy. Desens lives just over the Ozaukee County border in the Town of Farmington in Washington County, but the couple are building a new house on nine acres a couple of miles away in the Town of Fredonia in spring.

The kitchen has received the most design attention. Desens wants a walk-in pantry and an appliance counter. She uses her air fryer nearly every day, and former student Josh Weiss, who brought a quesadilla maker to Spanish class one day, inspired her to get one of those.

Trips to Aruba, the Dominican Republic and New Orleans have led Desens and her husband to try new dishes. She had turtle soup that she said was “meaty” and similar to beef.

When she tries to make exotic foods at home, she sometimes has to substitute for hard-to-find ingredients. One of her ethnic concoctions is roasted veggies and chicken curry, a Thai dish.

Desens finds recipes online and through the Cutco knives newsletter. One of her favorite sources is Ace Champion, a chef in Green Bay from whom she has taken cooking classes. She said she is fascinated by the show “Master Chef” but would be terrified to be on it.

She and David love to try new restaurants and return to old favorites. She savors the Schwai’s Fish Fry at the Fillmore Fire and Rescue Fish Fry, and looks forward to trying the Kettle Moraine Supper Club in Campbellsport and the newly opened Barton House in West Bend.

David’s preferred dish is the seafood enchiladas at Tello’s in Port Washington. Desens scans the menu for something she knows she won’t make at home. 

Family and friends have developed their favorite Desens’ dishes. For breakfast, it’s sausage gravy and biscuits. For an appetizer, it’s jalapeno deviled eggs topped with maple candy bacon — made with her homemade maple syrup. Dessert is apple pie baked inside a brown paper bag so the crust doesn’t burn and the pie stays moist.

David’s favorite dish is chicken enchiladas using a recipe Desens got from someone she babysat for in college.

Desens’ go-to breakfast is an omelet with whatever is in the fridge, and she likes tacos or stir fry to use up veggies.

Sometimes, she trades dishes with friends. Last week, she acquired strawberry jam in exchange for zucchini bread.

While Desens spends time in the kitchen, David is more of a grill master. He has, however, shared his award-winning chili recipes, one hot and one mild.

Desens makes the chili with peppers from their garden — poblano, jalapeno and banana varieties, cayenne and Tabasco.

Gardening and reading — fiction and nonfiction history and crime tales — are two of Desens’ other hobbies. Their garden includes a variety of vegetables and fruit. They can their own vegetable juice, pasta and pizza sauces, apple sauce, tomato soup, pesto, pickles and beets.

Cooking, baking and gardening are only a few of the skills she learned growing up on a 400-acre dairy farm. She learned how to ride a horse before a bike, learned to drive on a tractor, how to stack hay so it doesn’t fall off the truck, and she can still milk cows.

Her family had chickens, and “if any rooster got out of line, that was dinner,” she said.

Desens has developed her own thoughts on her cooking and baking, but eating the fruits of her labor isn’t her favorite part.

It’s “watching other people taste it,” she said.

She posts photos of many of her dishes on Instagram at mbdesens. She will share recipes upon request.

“Food shouldn’t be kept a secret. It should be shared,” she said.

See some of her recipes on page 4C.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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