I got to be a judge at Top Chef Bend! Yeah, you heard that right. I feel like this is something all Chopped and Top Chef fans dream about: the opportunity to finally taste the food. Well, I got to do it, and let me tell you, it was delicious!
A wee bit about the event. Top Chef Bend is part of the Bite of Bend, Central Oregon’s largest food festival. It celebrates the region’s unique ingredients, cuisine and culture by bringing together chefs, bartenders, brewers, food enthusiasts, home cooks, and local purveyors for a three-day food party on the streets of downtown Bend. The Top Chef competition is an opportunity for local chefs to claim the Top Chef title. Winners receive and keep a Top Chef trophy and proudly display it in their restaurant for a year. The trophy is engraved with the winner from every competition since it’s inception in 2007. So, as you can tell, getting this trophy is a big deal.
Back to me judging – I participated in a semi-final round where Anna Witham of The Root Cellar competed against Mathew Makohin of The Capitol. Each Chef was allowed to bring a Sous Chef along and they had 45 minutes to create a main dish and either an appetizer or dessert. One of the dishes had to contain the secret ingredient, Jem Cashew Cardamom Almond Butter, which was revealed just before the battle started. The food Anna and Mathew created was fresh, flavorful and absolutely yummy!
Here is what I learned as a judge at Top Chef Bend:
#1 Judging is Really Hard
I know we’ve talked about this before on the FoodFu blog but judging is not easy, in fact it’s pretty difficult. Why you ask? Almost every time I’ve judged dishes they’ve tasted pretty darn good. So I end up trying to decide which amazing dish was better and I get knit-picky. I start asking myself questions like, does it look like there is anything technically wrong with this dish? Even though it tastes great? Then I feel a bit guilty. Someone made a meal just for me and I’m sitting here thinking this is so good but what can I find that is wrong so I can pick a winner. It’s weird people, just weird. Let me end with this though. Even though judging food is hard, I love it. It’s always a fun experience and who can ever complain about eating great food? Not me!
#2 Eating Fast is Awkward
I don’t know about you but I rarely ever sprint to finish a meal unless there isn’t time for lunch in between meetings and I inhale a fig bar to avoid getting hangry. During the Top Chef Bend judging we had 3-4 minutes to taste each dish. Imagine sitting down in a nice restaurant and the server places a beautiful dinner in front of you and says, I’ll be back in 3 minutes to take your plate. You would panic, and I did! I ate like I was on a mission but I also tried to compose myself because: remember, I was in public! I scooped up and devoured as much food as I possibly could within three minutes while also asking myself a million questions in my head about how the food tasted. Obviously, I was able to come to a decision but I really wish I could have tasted the dishes side by side. That is one thing nice about doing this at home. When you play FoodFu you can taste both dishes together, it really makes a difference!
#3 We Can Do This at Home
Judging Top Chef Bend reminded me why I created FoodFu. Cooking competitions are exciting, and watching them is enjoyable but experiencing the entire event is so much more fun. I know the Top Chef Bend audience just wanted to be able to taste the food, and I wish I could have shared it with them.
Before I head out I guess I should tell you who won the Top Chef Bend semi-final battle. Anna Witham won us over with her rustic, seasonally-inspired dishes. Go Anna!!!