Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Don't Want to Judge, But: Evening on the Riviera

Evening on the Riviera, the upscale fancy-pants Fredericktonian party was held this past Friday at the fairgrounds (did I say upscale?). Evening on the Riviera is a major fund-raiser for local charities and features food & wine generously provided by local purveyors of food & drink.

One of the components of the evening is a competition between all of the purveyors for best savory dish, best dessert, and best display.

I was asked to be a judge last year, and just couldn't quite make it, but this year, when I was asked again, I jumped at the chance. And you know what I learned?

It's really hard to judge other people's work.

The folks who provide the goodies for the event do so at their own expense. For A LOT of people. Sure, they get the publicity and get themselves in front of an audience that may use their services in the future, but it's an expensive proposition. Working in the food business, I can't tell you how many times folks think they're helping me by letting me provide them with free food. Uh, not so much.

But anyway, I couldn't help but think about that as the other judges and I sat in back, behind curtains, doing a blind judging. Here's how a blind judging works:

  1. The judges do not look at booths beforehand. You don't want to cloud your judgement. At this point, you're judging solely on the food.
  2. Servers, in this case students from the culinary program at FCC, bring you food, in random order, in 5 minute intervals.
  3. You taste the food and then assign a point value based on presentation, taste, & difficulty.
  4. The judges can discuss taste, appearance etc., but not points or ratings.
  5. The food just keeps coming.
I know what goes into preparing food for an event like this, and I know that it's not easy to do. And I hating picking apart the nuances of each dish. But the one thing I really liked was having absolutely no idea where the food came from. Whew!

In the end, the best savory dish, and hoo-boy was it delicious, was a braised short rib on mashed potatoes from The Comus Inn. So very, very tender and dare I say, succulent. Short ribs must have been a theme, because the wizards at Canapes took second place with their delightful short rib on sweet potato hash. What a wonderful fall dish!

I got a bit overwhelmed on the sweets (I know, I find that hard to believe too!), but The Perfect Truffle won first prize for an assortment of lovely chocolate truffles (my fave was a pear-ginger truffle).

For display, well, that was a tough one. Gourmet with Paula had a striking, simple display, and seemed to clearly be a first place winner. I really liked the clean lines and lighting in the display. Completely beautiful. For second, well, that one spurred debate among the judges. All of the displays were terrific, and you could totally tell that everyone had put their best foot forward. There were displays showcasing stunning treats, and displays true to the business itself, and in that case, Home at the Braddock Inn took second place because their display really reflected who they are. It was homey, authentic, and just, nice. All in all, a tough pick, and display is certainly my weakest area as a cook, so I really appreciated all of the effort that went into making everything not only taste great, but look great too.

So judging other people's food? Stressful, but delicious. I can't wait to do it again next year!

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