I'm now salivating profusely. Take me with you next time!!
|My experience as an Everything But Judge
The Blue Ridge Barbecue Festival had come to Tryon. For those of you out of the NC BBQ loop, this is THE BIG ONE: the official NC Championship Barbecue Festival. Weeks earlier, I had said, yes, I’ll be honored to be one of your judges. OK. I was only going to be a celebrity judge for the Everything But category. The real BBQ contest (war) is left to very well-trained, very certified, very official BBQ judges. But I take my commitments seriously.
My qualifications for this job were heavily dependent on my many years of eating experience and my visible ability to enjoy food. Ken, Head Honcho at LakesEdge Realty, in the spirit of furthering my culinary education and avoiding possible public embarrassment, had kindly provided me with food judge training materials: 6 words on a sheet of paper: judge on appearance, texture, smell, taste.
The BBQ Festival has fabulous music, myriad shopping opportunities, great food, and it was a warm June day. A great way to spend a fine almost summer day. Having been warned that there would be plenty to judge, and wanting to do justice to said plenty, I limited the day’s nourishment to fluids, a banana, and a BBQ sandwich minus bread. By late afternoon, my stomach was chewing my backbone. Proud of my willpower in the face of so much bounty, I was hungry and ready to report for duty.
The judging system was explained. I got some of it but certainly did not feel that I understood it completely or even half-completely. I was torn between thinking about the love, time, expense and sweat devoted to preparing for this contest, and the final “it’s BBQ guys, not rocket science”. Could my hand be the only one raised as I croaked out “could you repeat all that one more time, please?” I was saved by the announcement of a short break and a kind soul who gave me a discrete tutoring session.
We were sworn in. If I had still had doubts about the seriousness of my participation in this event, they were dispelled as I stood with my right hand in the air and promised to preserve the American Way of Life including BBQ.
The moment had arrived. I was as ready as I was going to get. Our table captain approached with the first contestant. My job was to give it something between a heart-breaking 2 and an exhilarating 9 on looks. This was the BBQ equivalent of the swimsuit competition. Contestant #1 looked appetizing and I gave it its reward. Contestant #2 looked pretty good too. I was already beginning to doubt my scoring. Contestant #3 arrived, definitely a wallflower. Saved again.
Eventually all candidates sat in their little numbered square on my judge’s plate. Time to dig in! No, wait, I was now a seasoned professional. I had to proceed slowly and carefully. First tenderness. As I struggled to cut with my plastic fork and spoon, I knew I had the criteria fort tenderness down pat. There was no knife therefore it was all meant to fall apart under my fork or spoon. Finally, finally, came the moment I had waited for, the test taste.
The candidates were an interesting mix. Since taste, texture and appearance were all important, the cooks had used all their creativity. The food was a mix of textures and colors, beautiful as well as delicious. Surprisingly, the pineapple and red onion worked well together. The fish steak inside the taco is an idea I need to get used to. Maybe a meatier fish, a kind of fish fajita? Maybe not.
My judging was all very subjective but what isn’t? I had great fun and since I had to think very seriously about the food on my plate, I learned something about my eating preferences too. The dishes that where so heavily spiced that the raw materials surrendered their entire identity to the spices were not my favorites.
I have become a food judge. And the only thing I would change about the experience is this: can I have real silverware next time?
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