Little Bites, Snack-ability, and Mac-n-Cheese: Behind The Scenes With AllSpice Judges At The 2014 Iowa State Fair
AllSpice owner, Rory, gave us a behind-the-scenes look at food contest judging, and what makes a blue ribbon-winning State Fair entry.
There are so many cookie entries. How do you pick the best? What makes an award-winning cookie?
Rory: We like to go for the unexpected, something to surprise us. We look at overall taste, texture, spice. This year’s winner was a bit sweet, a bit savory and still soft and chewy.
You award several prizes for best snack mix. What are the key elements of an award-winning snack mix?
Rory: A great snack mix has a good mix of texture, with a balance of spices and possibly a bit of heat. We also grade on what we call “snack-ablity.” That’s a term we came up with to describe something that you’re able to snack on, without needing a washcloth nearby.
It looked like both of AllSpice’s judging days were packed with one event right after another; how do you manage so many consecutive food events without getting overwhelmed (and very full!)?
Rory: The key to making it through a marathon of food event judging is taking little bites. You can always take another bite if you need to re-sample to decide. We were lucky with how our contests were scheduled this year – it went sweet contest, savory contest, sweet contest, savory contest on our big judging day, so it was a good mix.
Needless to say, after sampling so many fantastic recipes all morning, I was not interested in having my once-a-year corn dog on Wednesday.
Rory: We are looking at the overall taste of the spice blend, and the balance of heat. We are always looking for originality as well.
Since it’s made up of dry/powdered ingredients that would be very strong-tasting (and dry!), how do you sample the BBQ rub/blend entries?
Rory: We have three different categories in that contest: beef, chicken, and pork. The entrants have to bring their rub entries on the appropriate type of meat. Then the entry is warmed, and the judges are served the different entries. One of the tricky parts of this is, you have to remember you are judging the rub itself, and not necessarily the meat that the rub is on. I have to say, though, that I was pretty impressed with most of the entries in this category this year. Our customers are such creative cooks!
You’ve talked about how good all the entries were. Which contest is the hardest one to judge?
Rory: The most tricky contest to judge is the cookie contest. You want to eat the whole cookie, you know? But by the time you get to your 10th cookie, and you realize there’s a long line of more cookies waiting for you to sample, you really begin to rethink your strategy.
Finally, Rory also says, only half-joking: “Another little note, is I have decided that I need to be a judge for The Cheese Shop‘s mac & cheese division next year. However depending on how many entries they have, that could be a disaster. I love my mac & cheese.”
*(pictured, above, L to R: AllSpice co-owner Andy, AllSpice staffer Chad, and AllSpice co-owner/President Rory)