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Here eats the judge

Nickel City Chef

It’s harder than it looks.

I see you, sitting in the Nickel City Chef audience, snacking on finger foods, perhaps sipping a glass of wine, watching as we judges actually get to taste what you’ve just seen the competitors meticulously create over the course of an hour. I know you’re sitting in your folding chairs, watching and supporting the competitors as they fashion intricate cuisine out of common locally-sourced ingredients like apples. You wish that you could taste it. You wish that you could bite, chew, and savor what the chefs had prepared.

It’s such a tease.

Yes, as a judge for Nickel City Chef, I’m exquisitely aware of the audience’s unrequited longing, as well as the intensity and effort that goes into creating the food that I get to eat, and you don’t. But when we’re presented with the plates at NCC, a matter of seconds—not minutes, or hours—are all we get to make some kind of critical judgment. We judges get about ninety seconds from the moment we take our first forkful until the moment we’re expected to pronounce on the food to an audience of hundreds. That’s not a lot of time to experience the aroma, presentation, flavor, and texture of the food. It’s a short time in which to determine how the ingredients work—or do not work—together. It’s barely enough time to give any legitimate thought to the way in which the secret ingredient has been used in the dish. When there’s three amuses-bouche on the plate, it’s an even more difficult, because now we’re commenting on three separate items, each its own little mini-dish.
They want us to be compelling. We can’t just sit there and say, “Mmmm.” We can’t say, “Gosh, that was really good and I’d like to have it again. Thanks.” We have to inform, critique, and give a couple of pithy yet informative comments so that the chefs and audience know what we’re experiencing. The audience wants non-repetitive descriptors, and they want ’em now.

I look forward to judging Nickel City Chef because I get to eat great food from awesome local chefs, but also because I believe in the mission of supporting and promoting local restaurants and food producers. Next time you attend, and you’re sitting in envy of the judges who get to try these creations, I can definitely sympathize. After all, I can smell what you smell. But it’s a lot harder than it looks.

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