Madison chef wins competiton
MADISON — Beth Hennington said competing and winning on the Food Network’s Christmas Cookie Challenge was the most intense experience she’s ever had.
“Being in that kitchen requires around 10 percent cookie-making ability and 90 percent managing stress,” Hennington said. “If I had four hours to make cookies in my kitchen that’s one thing, but doing it on a set with other people along with cameras all on you is a completely different thing. The fact I had anything standing at the end is a miracle within itself.”
Hennington was born in Columbus and has lived in Madison for about 15 years. She said she has always been artistic and used to own a mural business before she began working with cookies full-time.
“I’ve painted several murals in the Jackson area, including a 30-foot mural in the Metrocenter, but I don’t know if they’ve covered it up or not,” Hennington said. “However I grew up baking with my mother and grandmother and I still like to bake with my daughter Jessica.”
Hennington said she got into cookies around four years ago and got hooked after her daughter introduced her to royal icing. She runs her own cookie business called The Vanillan.
“I decided to just run with the cookies because I was addicted,” she said. “We decided around three years ago to send in an audition tape to the Food Network where my husband dressed as Santa and he said if they did not choose me for the show, they would be on the naughty list. It was so silly, but sure enough, I got a call from the casting department in October 2021 and they asked to interview me.”
Hennington described the interviews as very intense and said she had to go through five. While attending Cookie Con in Nevada in February of this year, she finally got a call from The Food Network inviting her onto the show.
Before Hennington knew it, she was on a plane in March to Knoxville, Tenn., to film the Christmas Cookie Challenge episode.
Her episode (Season 6, Episode 3: “Crafty Christmas”) aired last month.
“When I walked on set, I got chills,” Hennington said. “Even though it was the middle of March, everything was Christmas. The judges were Ree Drummond, also known as The Pioneer Woman, and Chef Eddie Jackson. There were five bakers in total, including me, and for the first round of the episode we were told we had two hours make a cookie that looked like a wooden plank that was at least six inches tall, with string art on it.”
“We were judged on taste, appearance, and creativity,” she said. “My cookie was a candy cane with a green ribbon on it, and what got me to the second round was the cookie flavor, which was pecan maple bacon with liquid smoke. It was off the chain and the judges loved it.”
For round two, Hennington and the remaining bakers were instructed to create a cookie carousel in four hours that had two different doughs, was at least 12 inches high, decorated 360 degrees, had five character seats, and had to spin.
Hennington used gingerbread molasses and orange spice for her cookie doughs and described making the carousel as “mass chaos and stress.”
“It was so intense,” she said. “I had an actual canopy on top, and mine stood around 14 inches tall when it was done. I put lights on it, and it had a walrus, penguin, polar bear, a sleigh, and peppermints on top. It was beautiful.”
Hennington came out on top in the competition and won a trophy and $10,000, a chunk of which she donated to charities such as The Salvation Army and the Central Mississippi Down Syndrome Society ($500 to each), and invested the rest in her cookie business.
“Ree said my cookie carousel was something she wanted to ride, and Eddie loved the cookies and the precision of the character seats,” Hennington said. “I was so excited and blown away when they announced I was the winner. It was all of the feels.”
Hennington said she plans to continue moving forward with her cookie business. She said she doesn’t know what the future holds, but whatever God has in store for her is better than anything she could come up with.
Outside of cooking, Hennington enjoys spending time with her husband Kenneth, her daughter Jessica and her son Reese. She also enjoys helping others and giving her time to help those less fortunate than herself.
Hennington will also be teaching at two upcoming Cookie Cons in 2023, one being in Ohio in May, and the other in Orlando in September.
“I am teaching a class at both called Magic With Metallics, which teaches you how to paint metallics on cookies,” she said. “Around the first of the year I will release a class on my website about how to make the carousel I made for the Food Network.”