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Pulled pork is a winner

NORTH Vancouver resident Robert Luft needs your help.
Pulled pork

NORTH Vancouver resident Robert Luft needs your help.

Last Wednesday, the portfolio manager and accomplished amateur barbecue enthusiast was named the winner of the weekly $25,000 prize on the Food Network's Recipes to Riches competitive reality series.

This week, he wants you to vote for him and his Slow & Low Pulled Pork.

"Now it's a popularity contest," he said. "If the North Shore doesn't rally behind me I don't think I'll win."

The show was filmed in the spring. In it, Canadian home cooks battled in seven categories to have their original recipes become a President's Choice product, win $25,000 and become eligible for a grand prize of $250,000.

Luft's category, Entrées, was the seventh and final contest to air.

He decided to audition for the show last January, when his friend and fellow barbecue master Paul Shipton told him about it. It wasn't a ridiculous idea; the pair had been perfecting their low and slow cooking for years - they cook for family and friends, compete on the local barbecue circuit and cook at charity events. Luft even has a 15-foot smoker in his backyard.

"It's a good thing my neighbours are all carnivores," he said. "I tell you - it takes a day to cook this stuff and the billowing that comes from upper Lonsdale some days . . . it smells pretty good."

He found out he was a finalist, and had to interrupt a two-week family vacation in Maui in order to make the trip to Toronto to compete. He flew for 15 hours to get there, and his call time of 6: 30 a.m. translated to 1: 30 a.m. Maui time. It's all a blur now, he says, but he remembers questioning his own sanity.

"That first day when I made it through the challenge, the look on my face, I was just exhausted and relieved."

Luft said the experience has given him newfound respect for reality show participants.

"They put you in stressful situations," he said of the tension between him and the mentor chef helping him "batch up" his recipe for 100 people during the contest. "It's interesting what they use and don't use, but it makes for really good TV."

When he got back to Hawaii, he knew he'd won his category, but he couldn't say anything to his wife or the friends they were travelling with.

"I just told them it didn't work out." Now that the show has aired, word of his win is out, and he wants to spread it even further. If he wins the $250,000 grand prize, he plans to donate his initial win to the School Meal Program, which helps feed disadvantaged children on the North Shore and in Vancouver.

"That $25,000 would go a long way to filling some bellies at these inner city schools," he said. He hasn't thought much about what he would do with the grand prize money though.

"If you think about what you would do with it, then you think you're getting it." He doesn't want to jinx it, and also worries he is at somewhat of a disadvantage because his product only hit the shelves at Superstore last week, while the other winning dishes have been available to try for longer.

For the grand prize, Luft is up against Glo McNeill from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia and her Luscious Lemon Pudding from the first week's Sweet Puddings and Pies category. From Week 2's Cake Challenge, it's Jacqui Keseluk, from Fall River, Nova Scotia, with her MultiLayered Peach Cake. John Grass, from Riverview, New Brunswick, won the Appetizer Challenge with his Chicken Grenades, and Melaney Gleeson-Lyall of Burnaby won the Savoury Pies category with her Bannock Hazelnut Pie. The Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies made by Sonya Walos of Whistler for the Sweet and Savoury Snacks category are apparently not eligible for the grand prize, since she is related to someone connected to the show. The Week 6, Frozen Treats category winner was Rosy Soobrattee, of Milton, Ontario, with her Creamy Kulfi. All of the winning recipes will remain as President's Choice products on shelves in select Loblaw banner stores across the country (including Real Canadian Superstore in North Vancouver).

Food Network is airing a marathon of the episodes today - to help viewers choose their favourite recipe - and online voting began today at 12: 01 a.m. EDT. It closes at 11: 59 p.m. EDT on Friday Dec. 9. The grand prize winner will be chosen during the season finale that airs next Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 9 p.m.

Even if he doesn't take home the money, Luft said the whole experience has been a blast.

"And now I have my own caricature - it's not on a Wheaties box, like I always dreamed it would be, but it's pretty good."

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