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The best carrot cake in Plumas Sierra County, top left, features pineapple and pecans. Top right is a maple walnut carrot cake. Bottom left cake has dates, lemon zest, and walnuts, and bottom right is a Tres Leches carrot cake. All had cream cheese frosting except the maple carrot cake that had maple cream cheese frosting. All but the Tres Leches cake included golden raisins. Photo submitted

Who makes the best carrot cake in Plumas County? It might surprise you

Mari Erin Roth

Staff Writer

[email protected]

The competition has been tough during the Best of Plumas County cooking contest, which has been running since Dec. 6. For six months, an opportunity to snag bragging rights for the best is provided by Plumas Sierra County Fair and Sav Mor. The categories have been cookies in December, corn bread in January, soup in February, and the most recent competition was March 7 for the best carrot cake. The final two competitions will be bread on Tuesday, April 4, and meatloaf on Tuesday, May 9.

But back to the Best Carrot Cake in Plumas County, two of the winners in that latest contest were trained in the Bridges to Mise en Place program taught by Sean Conry and Connie Garrish.  The first-place winner is Ryan Geary.

Mise en place is a French culinary process in which ingredients are prepared and organized before cooking. “Having all the right ingredients is as important in life as it is when you are baking a cake,” said Conry. “This is one of the lessons we try to share with inmates while teaching them culinary skills.” That’s right, the Bridges to Mise en Place is a culinary course offered to inmates at Plumas County jail in Quincy. “We try to teach that you have to be more holistic in your life to be successful,” said Conry.

The program has been running for nine years, beginning in 2014-15. Since then, cooking classes have been offered to inmates taught by Conry and Garrish through grant money they received to start the program. “It’s up to them to change their lives,” said Garrish. “Education is for all of their lives; education belongs to you.”  Initially there were three instructors that taught in the program. “Lowell Siwundla was a great guy and the third member of our team,” said Conry. “Sadly, he died of Covid the first week of the pandemic.” The two remaining instructors have continued facilitating, sharing their cooking specialties: Garrish teaches baking and breakfasts, and Conry teaches savory items.  “It’s a real nice program,” said Conry. “It’s more therapy than anything else. They (inmates) are able to get out of the negativity for a minute, and food brings people together in a natural way; it’s a social thing.”

Transferrable skills

“It’s not just culinary skills we provide, we give them job skills as well,” said Conry. True, the inmates receive a card after being food-safe certified and are eligible for a certificate after completing the 12-class culinary program, but Conry says he has seen the success spread out to support inmate employment after release in many non-culinary jobs, like the mill. “They are somewhere working, improving their lifestyles instead of using or selling drugs,” said Conry. “They are breaking the cycle to make a living.”  The inmates enjoy the ‘rewards’ of completing challenges during the course. “They love receiving some accomplishment stepping stones,” said Conry and went on to explain that many of the students have had little experience with positive reinforcement and have received no accolades for completing tasks toward a goal. “I encourage them all the time,” said Garrish. “Some haven’t ever been told them they did anything good.” Introduction to a new way of life and a different way to function in society is part of the process. One of the ways that becomes a reality has been taking part in many community events such as Taste of Plumas. Inmates prepared a luncheon for the Northern California jail managers and had plenty of hands-on experience cooking for all the law enforcement personnel from out of town during the Dixie Fire. FEMA provided the food, but the inmates prepared it as Conry supervised. “There is no free staff,” said Conry. “The inmates do all the work at the jail, laundry, cooking etc.”

So let’s cut the cake

So back to the lead on the story, not only are the inmates learning culinary skills from two of the County’s top cooks, but they are also becoming good cooks themselves. The maker of the best carrot cake in all of Plumas County and the third-place winner of approximately 15 contestants were students of instructor Connie Garrish in the Bridges to Mise en Place program. “I love it,” said Garrish. “It’s the best teaching job I’ve ever had. What you did yesterday doesn’t matter, let’s do everything better today.” The first-place winner in each of the contests receives $100 to Sav Mor. When the individual competitions are over Tuesday, May 9, (Meatloaf) there will be an overall winner declared for the cook who has earned the most points. The trick to that would be to enter all the competitions and to win a few. That overall “best” will receive $500 at Sav Mor. “We are hoping that the world will get better,” said Garrish. “We love teaching there, we really enjoy the inmates.” It sounds like everyone is a winner in this story.




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