WASHINGTON — Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be all about the turkey.
Pork can be prominent, too. Just ask Washington resident Dianna Wara, winner of multiple cooking competitions who considers her kitchen her office.
Wara is one of the winners of GateHouse Media's inaugural Home Town Cook'n Thanksgiving recipe contest. Her twisted lime and cranberry pork roast recipe was judged the best in the non-turkey entree category, earning her a $500 American Express gift card.
"Our family has pork all the time as a second meat entrée besides turkey on Thanksgiving," Wara said. "This is pork country. I love pork. I actually like it better than turkey."
Wara was born and raised in East Moline, but she's lived in Washington for 31 years. She and her husband, Jeff, have two adult children.
She was a special education aide at Lincoln Grade School in Washington for 13 years, retiring in 2013. Retiring isn't in her vocabulary when it comes to cooking. She's been an active participant in cooking competitions for 25 years.
A repairman came to her home the other day, Wara said. While they were chatting, the repairman asked if she'd taken a day off work.
"I was in my kitchen," she said. "I smiled and told him, 'No, I didn't take the day off. I'm in my office.' I was creating and writing a recipe. Not many people can call their kitchen their office.
"I love competing in cooking contests. Many of my best friends also do cooking competitions. It's amazing what I've gotten to do and the people I've met through cooking contests."
Wara's lists of cooking contest accomplishments and prizes are quite impressive.
She was the Grand Champion of Culinary at the 2017 Illinois State Fair, she's been a three-time finalist in the Pillsbury Bake-Off, and she's won National Festival of Breads, Krispy Crème and Betty Crocker contests, among others.
Her prizes include two trips to the Super Bowl, trips to Martha's Vineyard and Vermont, a $10,000 award from the Pillsbury Bake-Off, and a $5,000 home entertainment package.
She's met some famous people along the way, including Emmitt Smith, a former Dallas Cowboys great and winner on "Dancing With the Stars"; and "Sully" Sullenberger, a retired airline captain who successfully landed his disabled jet on the Hudson River off Manhattan in 2009 after it was hit by a flock of Canada geese. All 155 people aboard survived.
"Capt. Sullenberger tried my food and told me how good it was," Wara said.
You'd think Wara would have The Food Channel on the television all the time at home. Not so.
"I don't watch it a lot because I don't want to be influenced by the shows," she said. "When I do watch it, I just look for current trends. I certainly don't have it on when I'm creating a recipe. I have to be very precise and document the increments of ingredients."
The recipes of 12 Home Town Cook'n contest finalists — from more than 1,000 submissions — were prepared and judged Oct. 27 at Columbus State Community College in Ohio.
Four members of the school's culinary program judged the finalists' recipes on taste, visual appeal and creativity.
Wara entered more than a dozen recipes in the four Home Town Cook'n contest categories. Contest entrants could win only one category.
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.