By Keith Fisher
In order to achieve notoriety for the event, the directors of the World Championship Dutch Oven Cook Off have been getting Judges who are celebrities, professional chefs, or both. This year they asked me.
I was privileged to rub shoulders with former world champions and a few celebrities as well. What an honor it was for me to be chosen to be one of three main dish judges in the finals on Saturday.
We were charged with evaluating the meat dishes, in order to help choose the new grand champions. They would have the bragging rights for a year.
The cook off ran like a well-oiled machine due in large part, to the organizational skills of Ranes Carter. I watched, and went about my other purpose, the purpose of learning about making bread for the readers of this blog. I asked several of the cooks and a few judges to explain the process. I took many pictures, and got a lot of information. More about that later.
While watching, I began to reminisce. It was ten years ago that I cooked in the World Championship for the first time. We had qualified that year by default. In those days if the winner of a cook off had already qualified for Worlds, then it was given to the second place winners. Since we tied for second with another team who had already qualified, We were sent to compete at the big event.
When we arrived, we drew our pit number from a Dutch oven, and set up under the tent. I fell in love with talking to the spectators. Perhaps nerves got the best of us I started cooking the potato garnish too soon and it turned to mush. The peppermint strawberry angel food cake turned out great. The beef roast was . . . well, beef. The bread rolls were plain.
We took 11th out of twelve teams. The team that took first was the same team we had tied with for second place at the other cook off. Go figure. After seven or eight years of cook offs and six years of world championships, We final took first. We were grand champions. There had been a pile of tweeked recipes, dozens of failures, and a full court of idiotic judges.
At one cook off, while removing our pie, it slipped away and most of it ended up on the floor. We were told to serve what hadn’t hit the floor. That cook off was supposed to be judged on a separate dish basis. Meaning, we should’ve been able to win first place with a main dish. You guessed it we were marked down for not serving the whole pie. Our main dish was great, but it wasn’t given a chance because of the pie. I went home and considered giving up.
At another cook off, it was so hot, and we were so exhausted, I didn’t care anymore. But I kept going because it was our hobby. In 2005, I had just lost a job and we didn’t care anymore. We had qualified during the previous year so we went to worlds. We told each other it was the last time.
How liberating it is to not care. You’re free to cook how you want. I nailed my meat for perhaps the first time. To our great astonishment, we took first, and became Grand champions for 2005. Now I’m a has-been, but I see others on the path, and my heart goes out to them.
So this is for those who would be winners of the big dance. Yes, its painfully true, teams spend a lot of money getting there. It’s frustrating with practice, food costs, travel, and aggravating judges.
It’s also true, that we never really started to win until we let it go. We decided if we couldn’t have fun, we didn’t want to do it. When sportsmanship suffers, the vision becomes clouded. I have seen poor sportsmanship in many forms, including my own and it just isn’t worth it.
As I said, it was my great honor to be a judge this year. To see the kinds of food presented by the best cooks in the world. I am in awe of the talent displayed and everyone deserves to win. In jest, many spectators ask how to become a judge, and I laugh. The truth is, it’s harder than you think. There were twelve different meat dishes, and every one of them was exceptional, and deserved to win. How do you choose?
Personal preference plays a large part. In the end it boils down to how hard the dish is to make, and if it tastes good enough to go back for seconds, thirds, and whether I want to have it inserted in my veins through an IV. That’s what happened with me. I gave everyone similar scores but I gave three better scores. And I sat down wishing everyone could win.
I would judge that cook off again just for the honor. And this year was a great event. Perhaps the best we’ve had since we left the tent. All-in-all, I miss the days of the tent and the good friends I had.
I will share the bread secrets next week, but for this week I have great news. The man I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, became the first person to ever win the World’s Championship twice. First place went to Terry Lewis of Tabiona, Utah and his daughter Tori. More about them and the dishes they cooked later. For now, this is long enough.
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