Halifax home cook wins grand prize on 'Recipe to Riches' for mac 'n' cheese bites

TORONTO - Cyra Belbin of Halifax, who won the savoury snacks contest in "Recipe to Riches" with her Mexi Mac 'n' Cheese Bites, has taken home the grand prize.

The home cook was awarded $250,000 in Wednesday night's series finale.

"You can't even process this. It's such a huge amount of money that can change your life instantly," she said after the episode was taped in Toronto.

"I'm now going to be mortgage free. My dishwasher died on Sunday, go figure, so I can replace that easily. My car is 11 years old so I can easily get that solved and I still have money. It's insane."

In the finale which aired on CBC TV, each of the previous week's winners returned for their chance to win a quarter of a million dollars.

Belbin, 31, faced off against Jesse Meredith's Mini Raspberry Cheesecake Chocolate Cups, Winslow Taylor's Jammin' Jamaican Lobster Bisque, Alcide Desveaux's Grandpa's Acadian Meat Pie and Elisa Hendrick's Italian Lollipops.

It was the first chance Belbin had to meet the other competitors.

"I think we were all a ball of nerves but loving every minute of it.

"There was a lot of sitting and standing and sweating," she added. "We had a chance to hear what the judges thought. Galen Weston (executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd.) was there, which was excellent. He wasn't at the category tapings, so it was really an honour to meet him.

"I remember standing up and my knees just feeling weak with every time that we were looking for the next person to be cut, so it was nerve-racking. It was a real nail-biter."

In the first five episodes, three contestants competed in the categories of desserts, entrees, savoury pies, appetizers and savoury snacks. The winner received $25,000 and the recipe became available across the country in Loblaw stores as a President's Choice product.

After all five category episodes aired, viewers voted online for their favourite competitor, which turned out to be Belbin.

She was cheered on by her husband and parents. She also invited Izumi Kyle, who competed against her in the savoury snacks category, to the taping.

"She's just so lovely. After the episode we became good friends so it just made sense," said Belbin, who works in marketing beverages and alcohol.

She thinks her playful take on macaroni and cheese won over the judges "because it has the perfect mix of familiarity but with a twist that makes it unique and intriguing enough to really want to go out and try it. Everyone knows macaroni and cheese, but to have some kick in it with the Mexican twist and then being able to have it as a snack and finger food, it just makes it really appealing."

Belbin, who enjoyed cooking from a young age, is no stranger to competitions. In her spare time, she plays Ultimate Frisbee. She was a competitive figure skater growing up in St. John's, N.L., and went to the Canada Games in 2001 for track and field.

She was looking forward to celebrating her win with her co-workers and friends and taking a trip to Europe with her husband.

"I think (the experience of 'Recipe to Riches') will give me new opportunities and new adventures that I can experience, which is what I think I'm looking forward to the most because that's what I'm all about," Belbin said.

"I'm all about new experiences and adventures and challenging myself and pushing myself and seeing what else is out there. That's what I'm really excited for."

"Recipe to Riches" is hosted by actor and food-lover Carlo Rota. The judges were marketing guru Arlene Dickinson, chef and entrepreneur Vikram Vij and food expert Gail Simmons.

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