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All this glory from a simple biscuit
Yesenia Velas biscuit-making techniques win her praises in the kitchen and in a national contest
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Yesenia Vela mixes dough for Bojangles biscuits. Vela was named the winner of Bojangles' 2008 Master Biscuit Maker Challenge. - photo by Tom Reed

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Listen as Brent Fuller, area director for Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits, talks about the steps Yesenia Vela took to becoming the chain's 2008 Master Biscuit Maker.

For some of us, making biscuits means pre-heating the oven, popping open a cylindrical container and laying out pre-measured dough on a tray.

The more serious biscuitmakers might pour more love into their work and end up with some flour on the face as they get the flaky delights to hungry eaters at the breakfast table.

Yesenia Vela, kitchen leader at Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits on Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville, is in another league altogether. She considers precise biscuit dimensions, dough consistency and color, along with speed, as she puts her trays in the oven.

"It's not easy making biscuits," she said.

But the payoff has been great, not just for biscuit eaters but also for Vela.

On Oct. 8, Bojangles named the 22-year-old Gainesville resident the winner of its annual 2008 Master Biscuit Maker Challenge in Charlotte, N.C.

She had to survive three rounds of intense competition to win the title and the trophy, $1,000 and other prizes that came with it.

"I was really happy because I was training every day," Vela said through a translator, co-worker Reyna Ruiz, in an interview at the restaurant Tuesday.

Contestants arrived at the event in style.

Two yellow Hummers deposited them at the restaurant chain's support center and they walked down a red carpet as they entered the Test Kitchen.

The finalists competed in front of three judges as an audience of supporters watched and cheered.

Each contestant aimed to blend the perfect mixture of flour and buttermilk to achieve the best consistency possible. After kneading and rolling the dough to the desired thickness, each finalist carefully cut out biscuits before popping them into the oven for 10 minutes.

They were evaluated on a number of preparation steps, including technique as well as consistency, color, size and texture.

"(Vela) and another person were the final two people standing at the very end," said Brent Fuller, area director for Bojangles. "She was waiting for (whether) her name would be called. And when they called her name, she was real excited."

Vela said the competition itself didn't jangle her nerves. She stayed focused on the task ahead.

The nerves hit when she finished making the biscuits and awaited the scores.

"There were a lot of people taking photographs and taping me, and I was nervous about that," Vela said.

Vela developed her biscuit-making skills over the nine months she has worked with Bojangles.

She came to the restaurant at the urging of her sister, Elizabeth, after making hamburgers at another restaurant for eight months.

"Everybody taught me how to make biscuits; the manager showed me how, and I like (it)," Vela said.

Assistant store manager Shane Miller said, "Yesenia doesn't just make biscuits. She's a staple of our kitchen. There's not a position in that kitchen that she can't handle and does so on an almost daily basis."

The store manager encouraged Vela to enter the competition, which began at the store level.

In all, she "outdid about 150 people" to win the national title, Fuller said.

So, how can the master biscuit maker outdo herself?

Win again next year, Fuller said.

Vela smiled as she said she would like to compete again next year.

Her customers can be happy, too. Vela is keeping her career goals simple: She plans to stay with Bojangles and, for now, keep making biscuits.

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