On March 13, when the coronavirus pandemic reached Owensboro, Maria Kelly’s catering business collapsed.

“I had so many weddings lined up and then, nothing,” she said. “I still help with churches and food banks.”

One day, while she was scrolling through her Instagram account, Kelly saw an ad about a “The Favorite Chef” competition.

She decided to enter.

“You can enter as many times as you want,” Kelly said. “I think I entered either three or five times. You send in a picture and answer some questions.”

And then, a few weeks ago, she got a message that she was a finalist.

Voting begins online at noon Tuesday, Feb. 16.

People can vote for their favorite chef once every 24 hours.

But they have to have a Facebook account.

The link to Kelly’s page is https://favchef.com/2021/maria-kelly

She said Favorite Chef liked her slogan — “I want to always give more than a plate of food.”

Kelly said, “I started cooking about 20 years ago. We have eight kids and I was cooking for them. People would ask me to help with parties because I was used to cooking for a lot of people.”

Eventually, she started her own catering business.

Favorite Chef asked about her signature dish.

Kelly responded, “My signature dish is a mix of my parents. My mom is from Cape Verde and my dad’s roots were southern. Herb roast pork, shell peas or kidney beans and rice and sautéed greens with peppers and onions. Of course, some Portuguese sweet rolls and butter. Your home will smell like a hug!”

First prize is $20,000.

Favorite Chef asked each contestant what they would do with the prize money.

“Give back,” Kelly wrote. “I would give back first. It’s a blessing to be blessed. I would invest back into my business so we can continue to bring more than just a plate of food to our community. It’s as simple as that.”

She said, “I can’t believe it’s real. But voting continues in several tiers until April. How do you keep people engaged in voting for you that long?”

The rules say voting between Tuesday and Feb. 25 will narrow the field to the Top 15.

Between Feb. 25 and March 4, the field will be narrowed to 10.

And from March 4 to March 11, it will narrow to five.

From March 11 to March 18, voters will select one preliminary winner in each group.

Between March 19 and March 25, the field will be narrowed to one winner in four groups.

From March 26 to April 1, it will narrow to one winner from each semi-final group.

Voting for the eventual winner is from April 2 to April 8, when the winner will be announced.

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