The World Food Championships – Alabama Style
The 2016 Food Bloggers Summit was held in conjunction with the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama this year, and I was chosen to be a participant. One of the sessions was a certification class to be a judge during the Championships followed by a seat as a judge for the first round in the Dessert Competition. I didn’t even have to think about it. Judging desserts – sign me up!!
If you think a judge is just handed a spoon and fork and told to have at it, then you’d be wrong . . . and so was I. Being a judge is a much more complicated and involved process. Taste is a large part of the judging, but what about the presentation and overall ability to accomplish the various assignments in each category. Chefs plan very meticulously to use their allotted time wisely in order to “plate” their finished work by the deadline, to serve it at the optimum temperature and to give their dish a twist that sets it apart from all the others.
The World Food Championships use the E.A.T. certification method for judging each dish. 35% of the score is based on EXECUTION. Does the dish match the focus of the category? Does it use the featured ingredients? Does it look edible? Do the ingredients complement each other? Was it prepared well? Was the structure of the dish successful?
Next comes the APPEARANCE which makes up 15% of the score. Is it appealing? Does it look balanced? Does it make you eager to taste it? Judges were shown a presentation sample which was intended to be the best view of the dish, and then smaller tasting sizes were distributed.
Finally, TASTE was the heaviest portion of the score, 50%. Do the flavors work together well? Do you want more of it? Can you taste the primary elements? This category proved to be harder than I expected mainly because we were instructed to lay aside any personal biases we had and to eat what was put in front of us. In other words, even if you loathed strawberries and only liked chocolate, you still had to judge a dish with strawberries fairly.
By the way, a person with a lot of food allergies would probably not make a happy food competition judge. You are not forced to judge something that you can’t taste without a reaction and the managers of the competition can work around those issues, but it is not worth the risk if the consequences could be severe. Potential judges are questioned thoroughly about such things. If you have an allergy to dairy, for example, then you would likely be more suitable to judge steaks, barbecue, or chili, rather than desserts.
At the end of our instructional class, we were asked to judge between two different burgers and to give scores. This proved to be a very enjoyable task because I was starving after all that talk about food. The burgers were quite different, but both were amazing. I don’t know which one was the winner because the scores of the whole group had to be tallied. Which one would YOU have chosen?
A few hours later, I was seated as a judge, along with eight other teams of five each. As exhilarating as that sounds, I felt nervous. After all, in the prep kitchens, in curtained areas that I couldn’t see, were 37 teams of hopeful chefs who had planned, practiced and prepared diligently for this day. If their scores weren’t high enough, they’d be packing for home instead of anticipating the big money to be awarded to the winners. I was determined to give this job my very best effort.
The first assignment for each cooking team was to prepare a Structured Build. For 2016, that was an orange crepe. I was only asked to judge 4 of the versions, but each one differed greatly from the others. One was a chocolate variation with a fresh orange center.
Another was a gorgeous creation that was a feast for the eyes, but I didn’t taste very much orange.
Who knew that orange crepes could be fashioned into sushi?
There was only one in the group of entries I had to judge that actually LOOKED like an orange crepe. We were strictly instructed that each entry was to be judged on its own merits and NOT compared to any others. That takes discipline and focus, I can assure you. Also, we were given plenty of water and crackers to cleanse our palates between the entries in order to experience the full taste of each one.
After all those scores were collected, we had a good bit of time to wait while the next round began. In this round, the chefs were to prepare a Signature Dessert. In other words, there were no required ingredients. This dish was to represent what they considered to be their “crowning achievement,” an example of their style and expertise. The five that my team judged are pictured below.
Each one was very distinctive. One was served with a strong beer. In that same entry, the ice cream was melting quickly. Another was loaded with chocolate and raspberries. Yet another tried to combine an oatmeal/peanut bar with a mint sauce topped with fresh basil. It was probably the most unusual dessert I’ve ever tasted. A very simple strawberry tart came from one team of cooks, and a chocolate lava cake filled with rapidly dissolving whipped cream was presented by another. It was, after all, hot and muggy in Orange Beach that afternoon.
All of those scores were collected, and then the judges were dismissed. Our sweet cravings were completely satisfied. By the end of that day, 37 teams were whittled down to the Top Ten who came back a few days later for the final round. This year’s Dessert Championship winners were Rahman and Evette representing Sister Honey’s in Orlando, Florida. They even ranked 5th in the Final Table Round for the largest prize.
There were nine categories in the World Food Championships this year: bacon, burgers, chili, steak, seafood, sandwich, barbecue, dessert and recipes. Maybe I will be invited back to judge more of the categories next year. If so, I hope my assignment includes judging desserts. Until then, a diet is definitely in my future.