Bakin’ with bacon

Francine Bryson putting Pickens on the baking map

By Olivia Fowler, Courier Staff

Pickens resident Francine Bryson was standing in the kitchen cooking pork chops on a Wednesday night when the phone call came.

She didn’t pay any attention to it. When she saw the California area code, she assumed it was a telemarketer and said, “Don’t need any, already have some.”

But when the phone rang again, she answered and found out she was being asked to try out for a new national TV show, “America’s Next Great Baker.”

They wanted her to go to Nashville on Saturday and bake her first-place winner from the National Pie Competition.

And so that’s just what Francine did.

Francine has entered cooking competitions for much of her life and has so many ribbons in her kitchen they are hard to count. But something new happened after her national win.

The California phone call was the beginning of a journey into the fantastic.

But things didn’t exactly go smoothly. She had a room reserved in a hotel which was supposed to have an oven in the kitchenette.

“I got there. No oven. So I called the front desk.”

The lady who answered the phone told Francine there was supposed to be an oven in every room. She came up to check it out and pointed to the microwave which, in her world, is an oven.

So Francine had to go shopping.

“I went out and bought a toaster oven and made the pie in it. I can make anything in anything.”

This is not bragging. This is the simple truth.

And Francine went from there to the nationally televised “The American Baking Competition,” where she became a fan favorite, finished in second place and so charmed host Jeff Foxworthy that he wrote the introduction to her soon-to-be-released cookbook, “Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen.

There is nothing fake about Francine.

“I only know how to be myself,” she says, explaining it just takes energy she doesn’t want to waste trying to be anything else.

It’s easy to see why her chocolate peanut butter bacon pie knocked their socks off in the competition. The recipe, featured on “The American Baking Competition,” raised eyebrows.

English baking guru Paul Hollywood thought it sounded disgusting. But then he tasted it. And now, Francine says, he’s incorporating bacon into many of his own dishes in the United Kingdom.

A tough critic, Hollywood is a baking innovator who has worked in some of the greatest hotels in the world, including London’s Dorchester. He’s the author of two bestselling cookbooks, “100 Great Breads” and “How To Bake.” He has served as a judge on “The Great British Bake Off” for three seasons.

So impressing him is a real accomplishment.

Francine’s success doesn’t just happen. She said it sometimes takes two years to perfect a recipe. If she isn’t completely happy with her baking results, she tosses it. The addition of bacon to the national winner came about by accident.

Her husband, Mark, had a piece of bacon in hand, eating it as he walked through the kitchen while she was whipping up some filling.

Mark said, “I dipped the end of the bacon into the mousse, tasted it and said, ‘Oh Honey!’”

And that’s where it began.

To date, Francine’s recipe has received 8 million hits on the internet.

This may be why Francine’s daughter bought her a dish towel, prominently displayed in her kitchen, which bears the legend, “Either you like bacon, or you’re wrong.”

One of her sayings is, “A good Mama will let you lick the beaters, but a great Mama turns off the mixer.”

She says feeding people she loves and watching them enjoy it is a joy.

Although she lost her daddy halfway through the competition, Francine said she was really happy that he lived long enough to see her on the show He had been in declining health for many years. Francine and Mark cared for him in their home for the last seven years of his life.

She said the most important accomplishment to her was getting her cookbook published. Random House, her publishing company, also publishes the cookbooks of celebrity chef Rachael Ray.

“I ain’t had no schooling. I ain’t had no training,” Francine said.

But she learned what she needed to know in the kitchens of her mother and both grandmothers, premiere cooks who had family recipes in their repertoires dating back for generations. The cookbook is a tribute to them and to family.

Francine will appear on Food Network with Ray. She has met Bobby Flay and eaten at his restaurant. She has traveled to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and many other places she never thought she’d see.

Now she has a TV show on the CW, which is broadcast each Friday at 11 a.m. She will be hosting a cooking cruise with Carnival Cruises and is scheduled to appear on “The View,” as well as “The Chew.”

She has an agent, an editor, a publisher and a fan club, Team Redneck.

Francine takes joy in living and gets the most out of every opportunity coming her way. She enjoys just living. But she also believes you should make a conscious effort to create happy times.

This can all be summed up in one of her favorite sayings: “A party without a cake is a meeting.”

And those are words to live by.