Bringing home the bacon at the World Food Championships

It’s said that bacon is the gateway drug for vegetarians. If that’s the case, then there were lots of conversions at the World Food Championships during the bacon category.

In this episode, we talk to the Fabulous Bacon Babe, a nice Jewish girl from Long Island, N.Y. We also go into the tent where competitors are cooking bacon and talk with some of the contestants.

Finally, we tell you how well Tennessee contestants did in their categories.

Check out our blog post that goes with this episode and you’ll learn what it’s like to eat championship food. I judged six contests — none of them bacon — and I’ll give you the inside dish.

The Fabulous Bacon Babe

Chef Rock

Bill-E’s Bacon

Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees charity

World Food Championships

How good is the food at the World Food Championships

When top chefs from around the world come to cook for the title of World Food Champion and $100,000, you’d think the judges get some pretty wonderful food to eat.

Not so much.

I was a judge for six events at the championship – chef’s choice, chicken, burger, duck, chili structured and chili signature. Duck was an ancillary category open to anyone who wanted to compete, so those cooks should not be grouped with those chosen from regional contests. Those who won the regional contests were both pro and home cooks and a fair number of home cooks win the chance to compete at the WFC; last year’s winner was a home cook.

Cooks have to prepare all food on-site. That means cooks from all over the U.S. and the world have to buy local ingredients which may not match the items they used to win their regional contests. They work in unfamiliar kitchens, grouped closely under a tent and are subject to weather and humidity that doesn’t exist in the regular kitchens. For most of the contest, the weather was in the upper 70s with high humidity. Friday afternoon, winds kicked up and temps rapidly dropped into the low 50s.

Still, they got to the competition because they are the best and they should be able to produce great food.

Judges don’t taste every entry. There are five judges at a table and they typically get five entries. Each entry is judged on its own merit and is not compared with other entries. Judges give point scores on their food and those with the top 10 points move into the finals.

Most of the entries are disappointing. They are still high quality, but they don’t meet the standards of world quality food. Burgers are a great example.

At my table, some beautiful burgers were presented for judging, but the problem was that they could not be eaten. They were tall and stuffed with ingredients. They could not be picked up without falling apart. Try cutting it into a bite-sized piece and, again, it falls apart. There were great flavors on the burgers, but they could not be tasted together as a whole. They were – over-chefed.

The structured dish in chicken was chicken parmesan, a classic dish. Chefs could prepare it any way they liked, as long as it contained the ingredients that make the dish unique. One entry at our table were balls of chicken with a parmesan crust, stuffed with mozzarella cheese and sitting in a tomato sauce. It looked great.

I cut into mine and it tasted good, but when I saw other judges cut into their portions, cheese spilled out. That didn’t happen for me. I dug through the rest of the entry and finally found a small bit of cheese. Regardless of conditions, consistency is important. This should not be a challenge for chefs who made it this far in the competition.

This was my third year judging and I’ve found the same issues each year. In talking with judges both at my table and those who judged other categories, they share the same experience.

Is it worthwhile to be a judge at the WFC? Without a doubt, YES. There are dishes that can blow you away. But as you watch cooking competitions on TV and you see cooks judged harshly, those criticisms may be warranted. The same issues that exist at the World Food competition exist in television studios.

If you want to find out for yourself, you can take an EAT class sponsored by the WFC or buy a ticket to the VIP tent at the event where you won’t go away hungry.

And even if you don’t want to spend the cash to go into the tent, you get to watch the cooks in action and you’re close enough that you can chat with them as they work. Plus there is the opportunity to watch great chefs at work and I promise you’ll learn a lot.

Food photography

Who doesn’t like good food porn? And what better day is there for food porn than Thanksgiving. Well before this episode was released, food photographers were clicking away creating images that make you want to buy stuff and imagine that you can make it look as pretty as it does in the picture.

Nick Bumgardner knows all about this. He’s a Nashville area food photographer and in this episode he gives you the tricks of his trade along with tales of how he photographs burgers and beer along with some of the things used in a photo shoot you wouldn’t want to eat.

Nick Bumgardner Photography

Food Photo War — the best laugh you’ll have today

The importance of visuals

I’m a fan of the Great British Baking Show, but damn, when I watch an episode I want to go raid the nearest bakery. It’s one hour of solid food porn.

But take heart, we human beings are not the only ones subject to fall for visually tasting dishes. The Atlantic published a story in 2015 saying:

“In the mid-20th century, the Dutch biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen uncovered an odd quirk of animal behavior: Across species, the animals in his experiments seemed to prefer prettier, flashier, more attention-grabbing versions of their natural environments — ‘supernormal stimuli,’ he called them — even when those stimuli were fake. Certain types of fish, he found, would become more violent towards dummy fish whose undersides were more vibrant than the species’ usual color; mother birds would ignore their own eggs to sit on a nest of larger, more colorful imitations, or divert food from their children to feed models of chicks with brighter beaks.”

So the next time you walk past an ice cream store and just have to go in, you can blame it on nature, not nurture.

Now, before you go, you MUST watch this video — it’s the most fun you’ll have all day.

National Geographic’s tips for photographing food

99 Tips for better food pictures

Food Porn Daily

Wikipedia’s take on food photography

A turkey can dream — as Thanksgiving approaches, a turkey tells his story

Last week we learned about turkeys from someone who raises turkeys. In this bonus episode, Hungry In Nashville has an exclusive interview with a turkey who tells us what his flock faces one week before their day of reckoning. His answers may surprise you, but you won’t know until you hear his side of the story.

Turkey IQ’s are off the scale — but not in that good way

Turkeys are tasty, but they’re not very bright. In this episode you’ll learn all about turkey behavior. They can fly, sort of, they sleep in trees and you’ll have to listen if you want to know if they try to mate with ducks.

It’s also worth sticking around to the end to hear a heart-warming story about a woman and her expectations of a turkey.

Wedge Oak Farm

Thanksgiving by the numbers

Some 45 million turkeys will end up on our tables for Thanksgiving, Time.com reports. That’s about 18 percent of all turkeys raised.

Your time will come a few hours later when you feel tired, but you can’t blame it on tryptophan. Tryptophan is a component of the brain chemical serotonin, which gets converted into the well-known sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, but the experts say that what’s really getting to you, among other things, is that you ate too much and probably had a drink or two. Maybe three.

Oh, and don’t forget the side dishes. Topping the list of the most common side dishes is mashed potatoes. For some reason, mac and cheese comes in number three. Really? Turkey and mac and cheese. I can only hope it doesn’t come out of a blue box.

At number six is the hideous green bean casserole. It’s often just a glop of canned mushroom soup, green beans and some fried onions on the top. The dish can be made with fresh ingredients and I still won’t like it, but once casserole lovers try the real stuff, they won’t go back.

If you some ideas or recipes for Thanksgiving sides, the New York Timeshas you covered.

For dessert, it’s no surprise that pumpkin pie tops the list. Naturally there is pecan pie and apple pie. Pumpkin cheesecake is also on the list, but after a heavy mean, that’s going to have to wait until the football game is over.

Need some dessert recipes? Again the New York Times has your back.

After Thanksgiving we all pledge to go to the gym, eat less and lose weight. It turns out, we don’t really mean it. More food is sold in January than during the holiday season. The researchers said, “During the holiday season, household food expenditures increased 15% compared to baseline ($105.74 to $121.83; p<0.001), with 75% of additional expenditures accounted for by less-healthy items. Consistent with what one would expect from New Year’s resolutions, sales of healthy foods increased 29.4% ($13.24/week) after the holiday season compared to baseline, and 18.9% ($9.26/week) compared to the holiday period. Unfortunately, sales of less-healthy foods remained at holiday levels ($72.85/week holiday period vs. $72.52/week post-holiday). Calories purchased each week increased 9.3% (450 calories per serving/week) after the New Year compared to the holiday period, and increased 20.2% (890 calories per serving/week) compared to baseline.”

While Thanksgiving is the biggest food event in terms of sales, number two is (drum roll please) the Super Bowl.

Fox News says, “Super Bowl is the second largest US food consumption day, only surpassed by Thanksgiving. Viewers will spend an average of $82.19 on food, decor and team apparel, up from $77.88 last year.”

The figures are for Super Bowl 50 in 2015.

Restaurant inspectors

Is it safe to eat at this restaurant? The answer is yes according to Danny Ripley, a health inspector for Metro Nashville. Danny, and the rest of the 20 inspectors on staff each visit 300 food establishments twice a year to make sure of it.

In this episode, we learn what changes are coming to those yellow sheets posted in restaurants giving you the restaurant scores, what happens during an inspection and the tricks restaurants use to hide problems.

Check out the scores of restaurants you visit 

How dirty is your kitchen?

Our podcast on restaurant inspectors focused on restaurants and other food providers, but your biggest risk may come from the place you eat every day — your kitchen.

Your kitchen sponge and sink are the dirtiest places, maybe even more so than your toilet. And that refrigerator door handle — how often do you grab it before washing your hands?

WebMD says the best way to sanitize surfaces is to use bleach and water. It also helps you do better with your toothbrushes and  TV remote control.

Then there is the kitchen in your office. Researchers say there are 500 forms of bacteria that can travel to 50 percent of your office in just four hours, according to Healthline.com.

Then there is Faith Durand, a writer for the blog, thekitchn.com. She invited a health inspector to go through her kitchen and rate it.

While you don’t need to meet the same standards as a restaurant kitchen that serves the public, that doesn’t mean your kitchen is risk-free. Use bleach, toss out your sponges and be careful with chicken and other raw meat and you should be fine. It’s also probably a good idea to keep a bottle of Pepto-Bismol around the house.

The art of brittle

Brittle, brittle, brittle, brittle … ah, a peanut! John Spalding just didn’t like the brittle he was seeing in the marketplace and since he really loves brittle, and his mom had a great recipe, he decided to make his own. Now the Brittle Brothers in Goodlettsville are booming with a brittle that holds as many nuts as possible. As we head into brittle season, John explains how he makes the brittle and what it has taken to get where he is today.

The Brittle Brothers

The mystery of cashews

In the Brittle podcast, John Spalding told us that cashews don’t grow in America. So, where are they grown?

The Christian Science Monitor says: “The cashew nut—native to Brazil and now grown extensively in Africa, India, and Vietnam—is a readily available kidney-shaped nut popular with eaters all over the world. But, not as well understood, is that a single cashew actually grows out the bottom of a cashew apple, which is about three times the size of the nut. Unlike other nuts, the cashew—which is actually a seed—cannot be bought in a shell, because the cashew’s shell is toxic. Due to this toxicity in the lining of the shell, many Latin Americans and West Indians ate the cashew apple and threw the nut away.”

Biologically, Cashews are related to pistachios, mangos and poison ivy. The poisonous part of the cashew is the same stuff that makes poison ivy “poison” and is also found in the mango plant.

Nutritionally, if you’re watching your weight, you’ll want to limit  your cashew munching. Cashews are high in calories. 100 g of nuts provide 553 calories.

On the plus side, cashews are abundant sources of essential minerals. Manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium are especially concentrated in them. A handful of cashew nuts a day in the diet would provide enough of these minerals and may help prevent deficiency diseases.

Competition barbecue

Barbecue is one of the major food groups and people around the country take their barbecue serious. Few are as serious as competition barbecue pit masters who stand to win good money if a group of judges favors their food. In this episode, we talk with the Hot Coles Barbecue Team of Gallatin, TN, and we learn tips of the trade so that you can make your own ‘cue the best in the neighborhood. Read more in the blog on this episode along with the temperatures our guests suggest are right for four types of meat.

Read the blog post that goes with this episode

Kansas City Barbecue Society

Barbecue song

Pig Meat song

There was a LOT of information that came out of the podcast on Competition Barbecue and I’ve more to add here. Let’s start with the cooking temperatures the pros recommended in case you weren’t able to jot them down as you listened.

Chicken – Breast meat should be about 165 and leg or thigh meet to about 185. As always with chicken, make sure the juices running out of the piece are clear to be sure the meat is fully cooked.

Ribs – Because they are so thin, rib temperatures are difficult to gauge. As with other meats, you’re shooting for around 200 to 205, but there are other more reliable tests. One is to prod between the fourth and fifth bone for tenderness. Another test is to pick up the rack (it WILL be hot!) and bend it. If it flexes easily, they are cooked.

Pork butt – The pros say to put it on the smoker for about four hours or until it hits 190 degrees, then wrap it heavily in aluminum foil and let the temperature come up to 200 or 205. There is a saying among barbecue cooks: “I didn’t start winning until I started wrapping.” Wrapping keeps moisture in the meat.

Brisket – This is a difficult call. The pros said to start checking it at about 200 degrees. Like ribs, if you can pick it up and it folds into a “U”, then it’s in good shape. If you’re just cooking tip, then follow your thermometer. Again, you can cook it to about 190, then wrap it and let it come up to temperature.

In ALL cases, the meat needs to rest before serving. For chicken and ribs, that runs about 15 minutes. For pork and brisket, that easily be 30 to 45 minutes. The meat will be fine and still warm. Be patient, it will be worth your time. This is also good advice for grilling steaks and other meats.

When I’m talking about taking the temperature, I’m not talking about an instant-read device. Invest in a probe thermometer with a cord that extends outside the cooker to a display. The probe should be inserted into the deepest part of the meat. This will give you accurate readings without poking holes in the meat that allow juices to escape.

As I mentioned in the podcast, I’m a Kansas City Barbecue Society master judge and have done more than 75 contests over 10 years. In that time, I’ve learned a lot from different teams and my own cooking. Now is my chance to share some of that with you.

Perhaps most importantly, you’re cooking for your taste, not to make competition barbecue. It will cost you a fortune to produce competition barbecue and you won’t get a company to sponsor your backyard cookout. Cook it the way you like it.

That said, many people think if meat is falling off the bone, it’s cooked just right. In judging competition barbecue, that is considered overcooked. Test it for yourself: Take a bite of a rib or pork and press it against the top of your mouth. If it’s mushy, then you’ve lost the texture of the meat. If you like that taste or texture, then go for it!

Another important thing to know is that any meat will take all the smoke it’s going to take in two hours. You can cook it longer, but it won’t get any more smoke flavor. That gives you lots of options. For example, if you’re cooking a pork butt, you can put it in the smoker for two hours, then finish it in the oven. The same is true of brisket. When I cook ribs, I braise them in the oven at about 200 degrees for a couple of hours, then put it on the smoker to finish. That keeps them moist and tasty.

Pro teams will inject liquid into their meats. The pros we spoke with said that wasn’t necessary, but I disagree. Injecting chicken can be difficult because the pieces are so small. If I inject chicken, I do it with chicken stock – preferably homemade. Injecting ribs makes no sense for home cooks.

I always inject my pork butts. The meat is so thick and the cooking time so long that I feel the extra moisture helps. My injections are based on pineapple juice, a little orange juice, garlic powder, onion powder and a few other things. When you taste it, it won’t taste good. Use it anyway. If you want to know the other things, it will cost you a drink – maybe two — and you should know I like premium booze.

If you like pulled pork, don’t make yourself crazy using forks to pull it apart. Break out Kitchenaid mixer with its beater attachment. Cut the pork into medium chunks and beat it a few pieces at a time until you get the texture you like. Be sure not to overbeat it. If you want sauce in your meat, this is a great time to add it in. It’s also a good time to season the meat with salt and pepper as needed.

Most of all, your goal should be to have fun and enjoy some good barbecue.

Listen to podcast

Kansas City Barbecue Society

Barbecue song

Pig Meat song

Restaurant branding

It takes more than a sign and a catchy jingle to brand a restaurant. It takes attention to details so that the brand fulfills its promise to its customers and makes them want to come back for more.

In this episode, Amy Dennis of Nice Branding gives us a look inside what it takes to make a restaurant image successful

Nice Branding

For more details on branding, read our blog post

Food commissaries

Commissaries are where food trucks go at night, where caterers prepare meals for large crowds and where speciality food makers go to start up new businesses.

In this episode, Irene Bradley, owner of The Cooks Kitchen, tells us what it takes to make a commissary work and the challenges of running a 24-hour operation

The Cooks Kitchen

Learn more about food commissaries on the blog post for this episode