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Meet the Winner of the Best Thing You Ate this Year

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A big congratulations to Jenya | BlueGalley, whose Bucatini Pasta with Pork Ragu was voted the winner of The Best Thing You Ate This Year. Here's a little more about her:

Bucatini Pasta with Pork Ragu
Bucatini Pasta with Pork Ragu

What's your least favorite food?
I really do like basically everything, but my worst experience to date was frog legs. I would however give them another shot if, say, I was having dinner at Thomas Keller's house.

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What is the best thing you've made so far this year?
So far in 2016, these Roasted Chicken Thighs in a Sherry and Tarragon Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce.

Describe your most spectacular kitchen disaster.
When I first discovered that I had a knack for cooking (about 10 years ago), I got a bit overconfident and thought I could just throw an authentic chicken mole together. I went to a local Mexican food store and bought five different kinds of dried peppers, Mexican chocolate, spices galore, etc... and proceeded to boast about my upcoming Mexican fiesta to my husband. Well, there's a reason why the infamous mole sauce is a recipe that's meticulously taught, hands-on, from generation to generation—it's not easy to make! Mine was a complete disaster and the only dish ever deemed inedible by the man that loves everything I make. And to add to the disaster, it didn't occur to me to use gloves while handling the dried peppers. The next day I woke up to find the skin on my hands peeling off, which made it difficult to clean up the ridiculous mess in the kitchen. I'm not one to give up easily, so I reattempted the mole a few weeks later... only to fail again. But, three times is a charm, and with the help of Rick Bayless and his amazing books, I was finally able to conquer the mole.

Jenya's spice collection. "I try to grab spices from specialty spice stores in minimal amounts instead of pre-packaged ones so that they are as fresh as possible," she says.
Jenya's spice collection. "I try to grab spices from specialty spice stores in minimal amounts instead of pre-packaged ones so that they are as fresh as possible," she says. Photo by Jenya | BlueGalley

What is your idea of comfort food?
That's a tough one to choose! It depends on the setting, weather, and my mood. If it's summer, nothing comforts me more than heirloom tomatoes at their peak in a Caprese salad with high quality burrata cheese. If it's fall and I need comfort, I turn to baking with apples, pears, and pumpkin. During the winter, a hot bowl of chili with honey cornbread always puts a smile on my face. But if I had to pick just one thing, that would make me happy year round, it would be a perfect bowl of pasta. Any delicious sauce will do, as long as there's plenty of cheese.

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Apron or no apron?
Depends... If I'm throwing together a salad, I don't put one on. If making a chicken mole, most definitely!

What's your favorite food-related scene in a movie?
The soup making scene in Ratatouille!

Jenya's extensive, beloved set of graters. "I use them every day to grate everything from garlic, onions, zest, cheese and chocolate," she says.
Jenya's extensive, beloved set of graters. "I use them every day to grate everything from garlic, onions, zest, cheese and chocolate," she says. Photo by Jenya | BlueGalley

If you could make a show-stopping dinner for one person, living or dead, who would it be? I love American history, especially how it relates to food and wine. I think I might pick Thomas Jefferson, a big time wine and food enthusiast. It would be an interesting evening for both of us and conversation would certainly flow both ways. I wonder if he would like kale.

You prefer to cook: a. alone, b. with others, or c. it depends on your mood.
C. it depends on the mood! And... depends on how good my cooking partner is. I try to have dinner ready before guests arrive, because sometimes help in the kitchen can cause more work. But other times, cooking with others can be a fun bonding experience.

When it comes to tidying up, you usually: a. clean as you cook, b. do all the dishes once you've finished cooking, or c. leave the kitchen a shambles for your spouse/roommate/kids to clean.
A. I always clean as I cook! But, if having company, cleaning up happens after guests leave.

Tags: contest winner, community picks, finalist, ragu, pork, pasta