Orange farm owner finalist in General Mills baking contest

The Recorder. February 27 2015. Tom Relihan.
ORANGE — Have you ever come across one of those recipes in an old cookbook that becomes a staple of your own culinary repertoire?

Diane “DeDe” Johnson, the owner of Johnson Family Farm and sugarhouse, found one that’s become a favorite of patrons at her restaurant — a recipe for a yogurt chocolate chip coffee cake in an old church cookbook — and this week it landed her a finalist spot in General Mills Foodservice’s first annual Neighborhood to Nation recipe contest as well as a $10,000 payday.

“It’s pretty exciting, I was shocked,” said Johnson. “It’s the first contest I’ve ever tried, and that’s a lot of money for a coffee cake!”

The contest was designed to recognize independent family restaurants and the dishes they make that reflect their local flavor. To qualify, contestants had to use at least one ingredient from a provided list of General Mills products. Johnson used Yoplait yogurt in place of sour cream.

On Tuesday, an event will be held at the restaurant, located at 210 Wheeler Ave. at 3 p.m. to celebrate the win and give visitors a chance to taste the cake for themselves.

Then, on March 11, Johnson will travel to the General Mills headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn., for another event where the winner of the contest’s $50,000 grand prize will be announced. Of that prize, the winner keeps $40,000 and the remaining $10,000 will go to a local charity. The runner-ups will each get $10,000.

Finalists will also each have a chance to meet Amanda Freitag, a celebrity chef and a judge on the television show “Chopped.”

She said the recipe came from a cookbook released in the 1970s by her church, Bethany Lutheran in Orange.

Johnson and her husband, Steve, have owned the farm and restaurant since the late ’90s, when they assumed ownership from Steve’s father.

“We tried to figure out how to hold on to the farm, since we have a lot of land, and my husband said ‘Everyone has to eat,’ so we built a restaurant,” said Johnson. “We were thinking more of a farm stand at first, just selling homemade ice cream, but from there we went on to breakfast with the sugarhouse, then added lunch and dinner.”

Johnson said her sister will join her on the trip to Minneapolis, where she’ll be up against two other finalists: Beylka Krupp, owner of The Wobble Cafe in Ossining, N.Y., entered for her take on Shrimp Etouffe, while Donal Clark of Miller’s Seawall Grill in Galveston, Texas, submitted a Pecan Chocolate Ganache Brownie Cake.