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.
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.