Two finalists were selected during the semi-finals round of the 36th Annual California Strawberry Festival’s to compete in the May 18th “Berry Blast Off” Recipe Contest finals.” Elizabeth Koseyan of North Hills and Emily Falke of Santa Barbara competed for top honors during the festival this weekend at Strawberry Meadows of College Park in Oxnard.
Sponsored by the Ventura County Star, the semi-finals for Berry Blast Off were held on May 7 at the Chef’s Kitchen in the Courtyard by Marriott, Oxnard. The four semi-finalists, selected from a pool of 72 recipe submissions, had one hour to prepare their recipes and then present them to the five judges for tasting (Judges were Anne Kallas, editor of Ventura News Service, Wendy Leung, Ventura County Star reporter, Chuy Renteria and Mike Lodi, chefs Courtyard by Marriott in Oxnard, and Mark Spellman, Lazer Broadcasting and California Strawberry Festival board member).

Journalist Bonnie Carroll with Kellie Meehan, Director of Marketing California Strawberry Festival

Semi-finalists included Elizabeth Koseyan – Strawberry Marinated Yucatan Pork Tostadas with Fresh Strawberry Corn Salsa & Avocado Crema (North Hills), Emily Falke – Sweet Spicy Savory Strawberry Salsa Drenched Fried Avocado Soft Tacos (Santa Barbara) who went up against Kate Rodriguez – Strawberry Sicilian Quesadilla (Port Hueneme) and Kayla Capper – Strawberry Shortcake Pancakes (Ojai).
Koseyan and Falke prepared their dishes again during the final round, beginning at 1:30 p.m. on the Festival Stage. 2018 winner and defending champion Jake Hagen was the emcee for this year’s Berry Blast Off. The grand prize winner Emily Falke received a 4-day, 3-night getaway vacation at a Welk Resort property and a Cutco studio knife set valued at nearly $500. The runner-up Elizabeth Koseyan receivea 1-night stay at the Courtyard by Marriott Oxnard, a $100 gift certificate to Maddalena Restaurant at San Antonio Winery.

Contestant Elizabeth Koseyan being interviewed on the Strawberry Cook-Off Stage

The judging panel for the Blast Off finals looked for best taste/flavor, texture, ease of preparation, creative use of strawberries and presentation and they included Bonnie Carroll, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief of Bonnie Carroll’s Life Bites News and Beverly Hills Bureau Chief for Food & Beverage International Magazine, Celebrity Chef Carson Peterson Top Chef Junior Season 2, Chef & Orange County Food Diva Chelsea Madren, Ventura County Star food writer Anne Kallas, Chef Julia San Bartolome, and delightfully surprised woman volunteer selected from the audience to be a peoples choice judge.
First place California Strawberry Festival Berry Blast Off 2019 winner Emily Falke works at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum as the Director of Education and has competed in a bevy of cooking competitions in past years. Falke’s dish featured soft tacos with deep fried crunchy avocado and combination of citrus zest that was so deliciously paired with the fresh strawberries. “I’m honored to win and it was very challenging to know how much spice and salt would be the perfect taste combination to win over the judges,” said Falke.

Winning Falke Dish

Official sponsors for this year’s festival include Oxnard Convention and Visitors Bureau, Southern California Acura Dealers, Stella Rosa Wines, Stella Artois and KTLA.

About Bonnie Carroll

Bonnie Carroll has been a food/travel/lifestyle writer since 1983. She is the founder & publisher of Bonnie Carroll’s Life Bites News (, award winning blogger, travel, entertainment and food reporter for a variety of national travel/lifestyle publications, and does radio/TV reporting on food and travel destinations. She is a member of IFWTWA and NATJA. Contact her at
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