What it’s like to be a judge at the World Food Championships
Fri, Nov 2, 2012 (9:09 p.m.)
Photo: Brock Radke
I just wanted to check it out. I walked up the Strip to Bally’s on Friday afternoon hoping to observe some creative cooking and maybe sample some real southern barbecue at the World Food Championships, but I got much more than I bargained for. I was asked to ... wait for it ... eat food and evaluate it. Gasp!
Okay, so maybe I have a little experience. But this is different. This is the first year of the World Food Championships, hosted by Adam Richman at three Las Vegas casino resorts and featuring hundreds of competitors food-fighting it out in seven different categories for a total of $300,000 in prize money. This is serious.
I was chosen, along with nine other eaters, to judge the second round of the World Recipe Championship, where the competition featured cooks of various backgrounds who had won regional or online contests to earn their trip to Vegas. (Note to self: Find out exactly how an online cooking competition works.) Unlike the barbecue or sandwich or burger contests, this division of the WFC was wide open, and the eventual winner would take home a cool $10,000.
I was planted in a plastic chair at a table covered in a plastic tablecloth inside a plastic tent in Kitchen Alley, aka the weird little parking lot along Flamingo Road just east of Bally’s. I tasted six dishes, and ranked them from one (inedible) to 10 (perfect) in three categories: appearance, execution and taste. The judges were allowed to review the written recipe of each dish so we could fairly evaluate how well each cook pulled it off. I munched on spare ribs, seared duck breast with foie gras, Caribbean-seasoned beef, a holiday-themed dessert trio, an elaborate mini-cake and a simple yellowtail tartare mounted on a salty potato chip.
Initially, I was less than impressed. Presentations were generally plain and simple, and only the spicy herb mixture on the beef packed powerful flavor. But as I re-reviewed each dish—and considered that the people who prepared them traveled to Vegas from all across the country for this huge, crazy event—I realized they were pretty good. Maybe that mini-cake was covered in sugary sauce and frosting, but the cake itself was moist and delicious. And that bit of foie was far from what I’m used to eating at Strip restaurants, but the duck was perfectly cooked and its accompanying plum sauce was sweet, sour and pretty damn good.
I did my job. I ate. I ranked. I didn’t stick around to see if my favorites made the top 10. For those about to cook, I salute you.