Brian Leigh of The Great American Recipe gives a food demonstration

“When did I stop cooking? That’s the real question,” said Brian Leigh, a contestant on PBS’s “The Great American Recipe” at the start of his cooking demonstration Wednesday at the Stark State’s Stark County Educational Service Center. Middle School.

The free one-hour event, attended by around 35 people, included a cooking demonstration and tasting of two of Leigh’s signature family dishes.

Leigh, originally from Ohio, started with a simple recipe: spicy crackers. With a four-minute cook time and minimal ingredients, he mentioned how easy these crackers are for parties.

The recipe calls for a mix of neutral oil, canola in this case, along with mini salty crackers and Leigh’s Something to Beef About spice blend. When mixed and baked for four minutes at 400 degrees, this recipe produces a “beautiful crispy cracker,” according to Leigh.

When the crackers came out of the oven, they were handed out to guests to try. I couldn’t believe something so tasty could be so easy to make. I’ve made note of it and plan to save this recipe for future parties.

Cook Brian Leigh prepares macaroni and cheese

The guests munched on the crackers as Leigh moved on to her next demonstration, which was a tasty mac and cheese. Before we begin, he shared how he and his wife Jenny made this dish and served it at their surprise wedding, which their guests thought was a barbecue.

While cooking the cavatappi and preparing the cheese roux, Leigh answered questions from the audience.

Leigh answered the first question about how he got into cooking and recipe making with a nod to his family.

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“I grew up on a farm in Auburn, Ohio. … My grandma used to do everything under the sun. It was a little leap for me to do my own thing. I always cooked. I was always the one who was taking over the kitchen I walked into,” Leigh said.

As he continued to cook, he recounted how the children in his family slept until 10 a.m. on Christmas morning, and this outraged him. He ended up showing up the following year at 4 a.m. and “started cooking bacon and making coffee while shoving Frank Sinatra, and they got up.” The tradition continued, and now the children get up before him.

Brian Leigh's mac and cheese recipe features pickled jalapeños, roasted cauliflower, corn, and many types of cheese.

“It’s still edible – unless it’s not.”

The stopwatch interrupted his story and he added the cavatappi to the roux. He shuffled the order of his ingredients but didn’t care.

“It’s not a day in the kitchen unless there’s an adventure. It’s still edible – unless it’s not,” laughed Leigh.

Once incorporated, he put the gooey mixture of noodles, cheese, and vegetables in a pot, and into the convection oven he went.

More questions followed about his favorite foods to cook – eggs for something easy and pork belly when time isn’t a factor – and about his business, BT Leigh’s Sauces & Rubs.

Brian Leigh and his wife, Jenny, served this macaroni and cheese dish at their wedding.

When the timer rang for the mac and cheese, the audience was excited and rightly so. It was the best mac and cheese I have ever tasted. With sharp white cheddar, mild cheddar, parmesan, smoked gouda, ricotta and edam, a Dutch cheese I had never heard of, it was a cheese lover’s dream. There was also corn, roasted cauliflower and pickled jalapeños. With a little kick and lots of flavor, many guests had seconds – and thirds.

Leigh shared some advice with the public after her macaroni and cheese faux pas: “Don’t be afraid to fail in the kitchen.”

Following the demonstrations and tastings, a draw for BBQ baskets with two winners took place.

Brian Leigh’s experience on ‘The Great American Recipe’

“I’m so honored to be competing because I love to inspire and share the culinary traditions that are the foundation of my family,” Leigh said in a clip from The Great American Recipe.

The Great American Recipe is an uplifting eight-part cooking contest, highlighting the multiculturalism of American cuisine. The series premiered on June 24 and gives cooks across the country the opportunity to showcase their signature dishes and compete to win the national search for “The Great American Recipe.”

“We knew everything that was going on there,” Leigh said of the show, meaning the contestants knew the themes of the episodes and what dishes they would cook.

Brian Leigh doesn't like using salt in his recipes because he considers it cheating.

His experience to participate in the series has been insane. He was first approached in 2019 via email, which he thought was spam. He replied anyway and sent a “selfish selfie video” with his candidacy. He finally heard back in 2021, and by then he had forgotten all about applying.

Filming took place in September in Virginia, and he wrote 37 recipes for the show. He confirmed that at the end of the show there will be a cookbook with the winner on the cover with recipes from all the contestants.

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The show is hosted by Alejandra Ramos and the judges are Leah Cohen, Tiffany Derry and Graham Elliot. You can catch Leigh and the other nine contestants battling it out to win “The Great American Recipe” at 9 p.m. Fridays on PBS Western Reserve. The first episode aired on June 24. See past full episodes at pbs.org.

Want to make Leigh’s recipe from the first episode? He shared it on his website, btleighs.com, where he also sells sauces and rubs.

Leigh’s love of barbecue turned into a business

The official start date for BT Leigh’s Sauces & Rubs was Cinco de Mayo 2018, but its unofficial start was long before that.

In 2012, Leigh’s girlfriend Jenny wanted a grill. They bought one, and within two hours of setting it up, he had it turned into a smoking room. That first day, he made beef brisket, and it rekindled his desire to be in the kitchen.

He would then cook for friends, using sauces he concocted. Soon they wanted to buy his sauces. Then their families wanted to buy them, and before he knew it, Leigh was throwing graduation parties.

He then married Jenny and they gave little pots of sauce at their wedding. He referred to this as the official launch of BT Leigh’s Sauces & Rubs.

“As you can imagine, that was a poor choice of words,” her website states.

The couple moved from Ohio to Kentucky and sold at their first farmer’s market on May 5, 2018.

“We’ve branched out beyond traditional barbecue flavors into category-defying sauces and spice blends, and have been honored with some of the industry’s highest accolades,” its site states.

Its Clevelander sauce has many awards and its Magical Mop sauce is quickly becoming a bestseller.

BT Leigh’s can be found in stores in 34 states as well as the UK and Honduras. Bulk orders are welcome.

The site says new flavor combinations are still in the works and there are plans to expand into other avenues. The site also has plenty of recipes to try using the sauces and rubs.

Learn more about her sauces and order them online at btleighs.com.

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