Last November, I was part of the World Food Championships Blogger Summit in Orange Beach, Alabama. Our days were packed with amazing food adventures and specials guests, but one of my favorite parts was participating as a judge for the first round of desserts.
The World Food Championship is a serious food sport competition involving a lot of cash prizes. Champions must win particular events to qualify for a chance to win the ultimate food crown and a share of $300,000 and the final prize of $100,000. Blog post coming detailing this.
Fourteen countries, forty-eight states and over 1400 competitors graced the Orange Beach, Alabama World Food Championships with everything they had, to win. The contest is open to amateurs and professionals who must win a qualifying competition before arrival.
The WFC uses the E.A.T. Method, the best way to judge a food competition.
Mr. ST was able to take the class with me. We both just received these cards showing we are certified in this method.
During the class, we practiced our judging skills on bubba burgers, prepared by Nashville’s very own, Burger Republic. We were given two delicious burgers to judge.
EAT: Execution, Appearance, Taste
E.A.T. stands for Execution, Appearance, Taste and each of these categories are judged from 1 to 10.
The first thing you will judge using the EAT Method is the Appearance (A of eat). Appearance is 15% of the score.
EAT Method: A stands for appearance. This will be the first thing the judges see. A full-sized plate will be brought out and that’s the plate you judge based, obviously, on appearance. You don’t judge appearance on what the judge’s sample looks like.
Here is a sample of the larger plate that will be judged for appearance and the smaller plates that go to the judges for tasting.
Items cannot be propped up, all toothpicks must be visible and garnishes that aren’t on the tasting plate may appear. They stated very clearly that this is not an arts and crafts contest, but a food contest. The food should be appetizing and remain the star of the dish. Sometimes dishes look too complicated and it’s hard to figure out what category they represent. That should be obvious immediately.
The question a judge will ask herself is “does this dish look like the description, like what it should look like? Does it look appetizing?” This is something I understand very well as a blogger because appearance is the only thing I have to rely on to convince you I can cook.
Here is an example of a full-sized entree in the bacon competition. Very impressive and this is the entry that appearance was judged on.
EAT Method: E stands for Execution. Execution is 35% of the score.
In order to judge execution, you need to know what the cook intended.
Considerations include, but are not limited to, the intention of the cook, proper representation of category, proper cooking methods, proper balance of ingredients, and ease in eating the dish.
For example, if the dish name is “burger on toasted roll,” but the roll is hardly toasted or burned, the recipe was not executed properly. If the roll is not toasted, but still delicious, it is considered an execution fail, because it’s not what the cook intended.
If the roll was too much bread for the meat ratio, that’s poor execution. The ingredients were not balanced.
Another consideration is, does this dish represent the category it’s entered in? For example, turning in a shrimp crepe dish in the dessert category will probably get a very low score. It’s assumed a dessert is not an entreé, but a sweet dish. (This actually happened at the competition).
If the dish is Eggs Benedict with a Jalapeño Hollandaise Sauce, the sauce should have heat. If the heat is missing, it wasn’t executed properly even if it tastes delicious. The eggs need to be properly poached, not raw, not hard-cooked.
Another execution fail can be if the dish is too hard to eat. We saw judges struggling to eat burgers which were built too high and too difficult to taste.
To give you an idea of how we judged, one burger lost points in execution for layering the burger with tomato on bottom, making the roll soggy. The other burger had a slightly burned roll. Even with mistakes, both burgers tasted delicious. I immediately came home and stocked up on grass-fed bubba burgers, found in the freezer department of grocery stores.
Here is an example of a bacon pecan pie with bacon ice cream in the bacon competition. Everything was right about this. The pie crust was perfectly made, and the pecan pie filling had the right texture and viscosity. (Yes, it tasted great).
EAT Method: T stands for Taste. Taste is 50% of the score.
Taste is weighted the most heavily in the score for obvious reasons. Sometimes the dishes tasted too overpowering. For example, if using an essential oil such as lavender, too much, even one extra drop, could ruin the dish. A dish can be too bitter, too sweet, too sour, have odd texture or just not be balanced. A judge can ask himself, does he want to take another bite? Sometimes, what looks good does not taste good. Do the seasonings, etc. make sense when you take that bite? Does the dish taste appropriate for the category? Do the flavors work well together? Can you taste the primary element? Can you taste the infused element? Do you feel like you want to take another bite?
Some More General Guidelines for Judging the World Food Championships Using EAT Method
Do not eat entire samples until all samples have been tasted. Too much satiation can cause bias.
A judge cannot get involved in collective opinion. There is to be no discussion until you have written your score.
The judging is blind. You cannot see the person, or number. Numbers are renumbered for the judges.
You cannot be a relative. You cannot go back into the preparation area.
No Ingredient Bias. If there is an ingredient that you don’t like personally, you have to judge the dish based on the general good/bad taste not your preference.
Prevailing conditions (weather, cooking conditions) must be taken into account.
One extremely important part of the judging is not to judge in a comparative fashion. In other words, you don’t give a 9 to 10 because you already gave a 10 elsewhere. You can have many perfect scores. Each dish is to be judged on its on merits and not compared to other dishes. This is harder than you think, because we tend to compare and set standards this way, but that’s not fair to the competitors. These competitors work hard on these dishes all year; expect to taste many dishes that deserve top scores.
Each Competitor at the World Food Championships will create four dishes.
Signature Dish – They choose their own best.
Named Dish – For example, this year the named dish for dessert category was orange crepes, meaning everyone had to make some sort of dessert with orange crepes.
Infusion Dish – Flavors needed to be infused.
Final Table – A competitor can choose to have a 4th dish or repeat their signature dish, if they make it this far.
After this, we headed over to the competition as official judges of the first round of desserts.
The criteria is so well thought out and helped to guide us. We were given full-sized desserts to look at for appearance, and then smaller tasting samples. The samples were huge, and some were full-size, so it was important to not overeat and stay fresh.
There’s a lot of blood, sweat, tears and money involved for these contestants. The contest does an amazing job of making sure the judging is done in an orderly fashion and with fairness.
We had five judges per table who each tasted the same five entries each. It was an interesting time. I had a favorite, which was a simple preparation of a tart with berries. It was perfect in every way, but not nearly as fancy as some desserts, which I didn’t care for at all.
Eventually the final winner of the dessert round will go on to compete at the Final Table, with celebrity judges. This year the judges were Robyn Almodovar, Katie Barreira, Bob Baumhower, Chris Lilly, and Vic Vegas.
The Next Day: Bacon Category at the World Food Championships
Here is the beautiful space the competitors get to cook in.
The next day I went over to the bacon competition as a member of the press. I got to see the organized chaos behind the scenes and observe the commitment level of these contestants.
This is why it’s really important to have a fair judging criteria, trained and certified judges.
The Bacon Babe was back to defend her title, as she won bacon competition in 2015. She’s arranging the judges’ samples.
You can get your ingredients out and ready, as you wait for the go signal. His intensity is all about focus.
The bacon competitors were so creative.
The Winner of the Bacon World Championships was Colleen Curley who won her biggest score with a chocolate infused bacon dish (for the infusion category). It was her second time in the contest.
The winners of the 2016 World Food Championships can be seen here. Luke Carey of It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere won the final World Championship Contest from the steak category. I wasn’t there for this. I wish I could have stayed.
The Opening Party at the Flora Bama Yacht Club
The World Food Championships Opening Party took place the same night as the first round of dessert competition. They are first class, and it was one of the best food parties I ever attended, hosted outside on the beach at the Flora Bama Yacht Club. It was more than a party; it was an eating extravaganza.
By this point, all of the competitors had arrived and were treated to a feast starting with this amazing tuna.
I ended up with a media pass for the next day and hung around to watch the behind the scenes bacon round. I have a new respect for this food sport. Once the judges have judged the dishes, the “appearance” dishes are set on a table for anyone to sample. The excitement in the air was contagious and it felt like the the fever of black Friday, only with food. Everyone wanted to get a bite. It was great fun. We wished we would have been able to stay for a few more days, but it was time to go home.
On our way out, we met a competition team from South Africa. People come from all over the world for this food sport. They were here to participate in barbecue. I’m sure it was delicious. Too bad, we had to go.
This was my second trip to Orange Beach Alabama in a six month period, and it’s a great place to travel.
Disclosure: All Hotel expenses to the World Food Championships were paid for by the WFC.