Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Michelle Roberts gives a cooking demonstration during Thursday's Taste of Home Cooking School at the Gwinnett Center. Roberts was cooking up pumpkin whoopie pies.
DULUTH -- Hundreds of food fanatics came out to the eighth annual Taste of Home Cooking School on Thursday night from all over the metro Atlanta area, even some from farther away -- Connecticut.
"I come every year to visit and it's fun, so I arrange to go while I'm in town," Leslie Dinunzio of East Hampton, Conn., said. "It's really neat to watch the show every year."
She comes with her fellow foodie friend Laura Lester from Decatur, who hasn't missed the show in the past three years.
"It was fun and interesting the first time I went and it's something that I come back to every year," she said. "They pick some of the best recipes and have a lot of good ideas. Some of it is really quick to do ... some of it looks really good and you want to make it."
They weren't the only group of friends to come out. There was a gaggle of women from the Red Hat Society -- the "Red Hatters" -- who stood out from the crowd. They were all wearing striking red hats, bright purple outfits and all red accessories.
Queen of the Red Hatter Suwanee Sweeties, Sally Croft brought her girls out for the food samples, cooking demonstration with Michelle "Red" Roberts and to give canned goods to the Holtkamp Gwinnett CAN Challenge.
"We expect a lot of fun and to learn something," Croft said. "I've bought a lot of their ("Taste of Home") cookbooks over the years and their magazines."
Another Red Hatter, Iris Brooks of Suwanee, added, "This is my first time and I'm really excited."
Gwinnett Daily Post columnist and author Darrell Huckaby emceed the show, giving out prizes to audience members and making sure all of them remembered to scream "I love food" before receiving the prize, which was shouted more than 70 times in the night.
During the cooking demonstration, Chef Roberts presented several recipes from start to finish for the crowd of more than 800. With her overhead camera, the audience could watch everything she was doing with the food on two large projector screens in the auditorium.
She began with homemade pumpkin whoopie pies, then went into a Wisconsin barbecue chicken pizza and on to a groundnut stew. Besides preparing the meals, she also gave helpful tips to use in any recipe and clever substitutions when cooks are in a bind.
"There are several recipes in the magazine that I want to try (to cook)," Sarah Kyranakis of Braselton said. "I really liked the salad that she (Roberts) did, the glazed pork and the Chex Mix with red and green M&M's. I thought that would be perfect for the holidays. Next year, we definitely want to come back."
The cooking demonstration wasn't the only highlight of the show. There were a number of local businesses with booths giving out samples and selling their fares. There were four that made the biggest impression on guests. Genghis Grill Mongolian stir fry was the first sample attendees found when they walked into the venue and everyone was crowded around their tent. Holtkamp Heating and Air was also very busy with people donating canned goods and other nonperishable items to their CAN Challenge. Gallo Wine was giving wine away -- some folks went back for seconds -- and Duluth's Purple Rain was the winner with the longest line.