MOULTONBOROUGH — Jennifer Clifford, a pastry chef with Magic Foods Restaurant Group, is among six cooks in the northeast region vying for a place in the finals of the "Next Top Product" competition staged by U.S. Food Service, the second largest distributor of foodstuffs to the restaurant industry in the country.
When judges chose Clifford's recipe for Silky Mascarpone Cheesecake with Chocolate Hazelnut Topping and Candied Hazelnuts from among 70 entries in the Boston region, she advanced to the next round against competitors from all six New England states, as well as New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware.
"It's a big deal," Clifford said. "It's going to put us on the map."
The winner of the eight regional competitions, all selected by a popular vote conducted online, will travel to Las Vegas where another panel of judges will pick the national winner. Clifford urged all those who have enjoyed her deserts at the O Steak & Seafood in Laconia and Concord and the Canoe Restaurant & Tavern in Center Harbor to cast a vote for her cheesecake on either the website (USFOODS.COM/NTP) or Facebook page of U.S. Food Service.
During her sophomore year at Moultonborough Academy, where she described herself as an enthusiastic athlete, Clifford spent a day shadowing the woman she calls "the master," Donna Love, who with husband Mike owned and operated Love's Quay Restaurant in Wolfeboro. "After one day she offered me a job," said Clifford. "As soon as I got my driver's license I started work." Clifford spent a decade with the Loves, including her last two years of high school, and in 2010 joined Magic Foods.
Clifford said that she developed the mascarpone cheesecake seeking to add a new twist to the traditional Italian cheesecake. It consists of a sugar cookie crust with mascarpone filling and chocolate hazelnut topping. She has her sights set on the finals in Las Vegas, where the winner will receive a $5,000 cash prize and their product will be distributed throughout the country. In addition, her employer will be awarded $15,000 to invest in improvements to its restaurants.