Monday, September 19, 2011


Governor Gary Herbert & First Lady Jeanette Herbert.
This past weekend I was a judge at three Utah State Fair cooking contests.

First up was Governor Herbert's Favorite Meatloaf Contest.  The Governor and First Lady Jeanette Herbert were both very pleasant and personable.  

They taste-tested all 12 entries, although they didn't do any judging, score-wise. They complimented all the entries and posed for photos with contestants and folks in the audience. Meanwhile, as judges were were busy sampling, and dealing with some timing challenges.  The date and time of the contest had been changed at least three times, so not surprisingly, there was some confusion. One  judge didn't get word about the last time change (made that afternoon), and arrived about 15 minutes after judging had started. When we were just a few minutes into tasting and scoring, the Governor's handlers informed us (and kept informing us about every couple of minutes) that we needed to hurry up and pick a winner because he had to leave soon.  But as  judges, we wanted to be fair and give each entry due consideration. We picked a winner in a "meatloaf pie" that was smothered in mashed potatoes, netting 14-year-old Sarah Kress of West Jordan $150.
 Bill Johnson garnishes his meatloaf entry.

First place winner Sarah Kress with her meatloaf "pie."

An hour later,  it was time for the Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship, with 28 entries. That's the most I've ever judged in a fair contest.  Ten years ago, when Utahans were still reeling in the aftermath of 9/11, I remember some contests only had three or four entries. Last year, I judged some contests with a half-dozen entries.  I think one reason the numbers were up for Ghirardelli (and also Fleischmann's Bake For the Cure contest) is that other food companies stopped sponsoring their contests, so there were fewer to choose from.  
There were chocolate muffins, brownies, cheesecakes,  flourless chocolate cakes, white chocolate flan, chocolate cherry pine nut cookies, gluten-free peanut butter cookies, a cake cooked in a Dutch oven, chocolate-covered homemade marshmallows  and more, more, more.  
I'm not going to whine about what a "tough" job it was. The tough part isn't in the tasting, it's in trying to be  fair to every entry.  You need to start out taking tiny samples, and pace yourself so you don't get chocolate "fatigue"  as you get to the last entries. 
Dickie Shannon did a masterful job as emcee, sharing chocolate trivia, giving away prizes, interviewing people in the audience, and keeping things going while the judges did the tasting and deliberating.  

Diamond Brownies, 1st place winner 
All three of  judges agreed on Kip Kress's "Diamond Brownies — A Girl's Best Friend" as the top winner of $150. Kip is the father of meatloaf contest winner Sarah Kress.  Their family has a long-standing tradition of entering fair contests, and they win quite a few of them.  
Kip said his family had learned to follow the contest rules exactly.  There were some strong contenders that we had to disqualify from Ghirardelli because they used more ingredients than the rules allow (10 plus the Ghirardelli products). Also, they have found the more moist their entry is, the greater the chance of winning.  That proved to be true with both meatloaf AND the brownies.

Saturday afternoon, I was back for the Beef— Anywhere, Anytime Cook-Off.  There were just six entries, likely because the entry deadline is a couple of weeks before the fair.  But since you can win $300 for first prize, this is one that people shouldn't over look.  

The Beef folks always put on a good contest, with lots of prize giveaways for the audience (thanks for that Beef fanny pack, by the way!)  I enjoyed judging with Monte Weston and Wally Schulthess (above photo).

Carol Bartholomew, another perennial contestant, took first place with a Beef Asparagus Lo Mein. She said, "The 4th time's a charm," alluding to her many tries at the top prize.  But actually, Carol represented Utah at the National Beef Cook-off back in 1990, so she does have a winning way with beef. Kip Kress took 2nd place, so it was another win for the Kress family. 

Well, it's over -but it was definitely a fair to remember. 

No comments: