For someone who loves to eat and cook as much as I do, I was surprised that I was a little nervous about being a judge for the Culinary Competition at the Harford County Farm Fair. After all, it wasn’t MY food being complimented or criticized. Perhaps it was just that I was in the spotlight this time, rather than quietly critiquing food on the sidelines.
Although I have been a Harford County resident most of my life, I have never attended a Farm Fair. As I approached the Main Pavilion, I passed many different activities – pig races, jewelry booths, home improvement companies trying to pitch their products, a Peach Pie contest, weaving/spinning demonstrations, 4-H competitions, a spelling bee, and lots of food tents. The food tents were selling typical carnival style food such as Italian sausages, fresh cut fries, funnel cakes, kettle corn, and I even saw those old fashioned lemons with peppermint sticks that took me back to my childhood days.
In any event, the Culinary Competition was a load of fun and I was honored to be involved in what I hope is the first of many such competitions. The other 2 judges were Jessica Numbers, a culinary teacher at Harford Vocational Technical High School, and Lucie Snodgrass, author of Dishing Up Maryland (a cookbook that I personally own). So, I was definitely the novice in the group. The contestants were asked to make a dish using a seasonal ingredient in the categories of Appetizer, Side Dish, Entrée or Dessert and were judged by presentation, creativity, appearance and of course, flavor. There were a total of 8 contestants, one of which was a chef from a Baltimore restaurant which perhaps gave him an unfair advantage. There was some discussion about separating the contestants next year between professional cooks and recreational cooks.
The categories and dishes were as follows:
Panzanella Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes & Sorrel (First Place)
Crab Dip with an Avocado/Strawberry garnish (Second Place)
Fried Green Tomatoes with Fire Roasted Tomato Relish and Mozzarella (Third Place)
Chips & Salsa
Cucumber, Melon & Mozzarella Salad
Farfalle with Pesto Sauce
Smoked Ribs with Homemade Peach BBQ Sauce
Every dish was delicious and I was glad that I arrived with an empty stomach. Guess there is a first time for everything! With only one contender in three of the categories, the Blue Ribbons automatically went to those contestants. However, every entrant was obviously a food lover and therefore was a winner in my book.
The crab dip was served in an empty crab shell which scored high for presentation. I wasn’t quite sure whether or not to eat the avocado/strawberry garnish, but I did. Later I discovered that it was made by one of our volunteer firefighters, so I loved it all the more. I also had the pleasure of meeting the gentleman who made the ribs and the fried tomatoes. I loved the fact that he and his family had moved here from Missouri only two years ago, yet he still made what I would call a truly Southern dish – Fried Green Maters. His 11 year old son was also participating in the Peach Pie contest (his first pie ever) and I could see the enthusiasm on their faces. Next year I hope there are more children who compete. After all, these are the chefs of our future. Might I also suggest a Tailgating category? After all, football season is right around the corner…