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State High grad wins International Biscuit Festival baking competition

Kimberly Asbury, a 1993 State High graduate, won the 2017 International Biscuit Festival baking competition in May in Knoxville. Asbury currently lives in Orange Beach, Alabama, where she is a pastry chef and manager at BuzzCatz Coffee & Sweets.
Kimberly Asbury, a 1993 State High graduate, won the 2017 International Biscuit Festival baking competition in May in Knoxville. Asbury currently lives in Orange Beach, Alabama, where she is a pastry chef and manager at BuzzCatz Coffee & Sweets. Photo provided

The International Biscuit Festival draws thousands of visitors to Knoxville, Tenn., each May, alongside dozens of competitors all vying to prove their biscuit-baking skills. Recently, one of these ambitious bakers was State College native Kimberly Asbury.

Currently the pastry chef and manager at BuzzCatz Coffee & Sweets in Orange Beach, Ala., Asbury beat out the competition this year with her unique creation, the Alabama Scotch Egg, a mouthwatering concoction made up of a buttermilk biscuit, stuffed with hickory-smoked sausage and a soft boiled egg topped with red onion jam. The road to Asbury’s victory wasn’t easy coming, but she admits the stars aligned in her favor.

Asbury, a 1993 graduate of State High, worked in the restaurant industry for many years before deciding to return to school at 27 years old to pursue a baking and pastry degree at Penn College in Williamsport.

When her now-husband decided to relocate to Alabama, she went along for the ride and positioned herself in a local bakery, where she established a reputation and learned management skills.

After the infamous 2010 oil spill, Asbury said she experienced a period of unemployment before landing her current position at BuzzCatz.

“It’s a small coffee shop with a scratch bakery, and we don’t use preservatives or conditioners or additives,” Asbury said. “We just do natural, simple, classic baking, which is what I love to do. That’s what I love to eat. We’re not like a French patisserie trying to be above and beyond what, really, the type of people who come to the Gulf Coast have come to expect. They want Southern baking and Southern cooking…so I’ve learned and refined my way of making biscuits, and just from feedback from other people, it’s evolved over the years.”

It was just by chance that Asbury learned about the International Biscuit Festival. Her friends happened to mention that one of Asbury’s favorite New Orleans chefs would be judging the competition.

“International Biscuit Festival — I had never heard of it. So I Googled it and I was like, ‘I make a great biscuit; I think mine’s the winning biscuit; people would want to taste this,’ ” she said. “It was like the whole year I knew I was going to be there, and I knew there was no way I couldn’t get there.”

However, Asbury also knew she’d need something completely out of the box and above and beyond the competition to win.

“I played off of something I was already doing in the shop using a different kind of bread, and it evolved into this thing, the Scotch Egg,” she said. “It took some trial and error, but we came up with the right combination, completely with the intention of going to the International Biscuit Festival.”

The entrance process requires submission of a baker’s best biscuit recipe, as well as photographs of the completed product. There are four categories to choose from — savory, sweet, student and special (which includes biscuits with fillings, toppings or other similar extra touches). Those bakers whose submitted recipes intrigue the panel of judges and chefs are extended an invitation to compete at the festival.

“When I got there, I just did what I do,” Asbury said. “I worked just like I do in my kitchen. I work cleanly; I work efficiently; and I put the same passion that I do into my everyday life into making that Scotch Egg and it took me to success. I pushed myself and made something a little more complicated than my competitors.”

So, what’s next for Asbury? While more competitions are definitely a possibility, 2018’s International Biscuit Festival will see her playing a different role. “I get to be there next year and demonstrate (my winning recipe), and then I get to be the one who crowns the next year’s grand champion, but that doesn’t mean my husband can’t (compete), which is what I’m trying to get him to do,” she said.

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