Laurie Figone of Petaluma grew up on the 1,000-acre Leveroni Brothers Dairy ranch in Novato and studied agriculture at Petaluma High School.
Nowadays, the 55-year-old mother of two uses the lessons she learned on the farm to win one top prize after another in amateur cooking contests. It's her claim to fame.
When she got married 28 years ago, her grandmother taught her how to make a family recipe for ravioli. That ravioli became Figone's signature dish, a labor of love stuffed with meat and smothered in tomato sauce.
Laurie Figone's Strawberry Daiquiri Trifle
"Word of mouth got out," she said. "One Christmas, I made 10,000 raviolis."
In 2009, Figone decided to enter her Tomato and Brie Focaccia in a contest sponsored by Taste of Home magazine. It won in the tomato dish category.
"That's how I got into recipe contests," she said. "I'm a perfectionist, and I was trying to perfect my focaccia."
At the moment, Figone is a finalist in the 2013 "Get Wild with Wild Rice" contest sponsored by the Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice Council.
In November, she will head to Las Vegas to compete in the World Dessert Championship as part of the World Food Championships.
"There will be 50 people just in the dessert category alone," she said. "And there are professional pastry chefs competing with home cooks."
On the first day of the competition, Figone will make a signature dessert and a "build," meaning an original dessert using the same ingredients that were given to the other contestants.