Or, as I like to think of it, “Showdown at O-Cluck Corral!”
Over the past 15 years or so I’ve been called on to judge a great range of foods. From critiquing prototypes of seafood dishes being considered for commercial production at the Symphony of Seafood, which I judged this year and about 14 years ago. To the far more playful Great American Spam Championship cooking challenge held at the Puyallup Fair each September (entry deadline is September 1 for this year, there’s still time!), for which I was a judge a few years back.
Yesterday had me on the spot again, helping judge the first annual Foster Farms West Coast Chicken Cooking Contest. Not only the first annual, but this was also the first of the three regional finals was held in Seattle, so we really kicked off the whole shebang yesterday. And in great style, at that, hosted by Kathy Casey and her team at the amazing Food Studios in Ballard. Kathy and I, along with good friend and colleague Jamie Peha from Table Talk radio, were the panel tasting and evaluating five finalists who’d been chosen from hundreds of entries from Washington state. All in all, over 2,o0o recipes were sent in from folks in Washington, Oregon and California. Those other regional finals are being held in Portland and Sacramento in this next week or so. From each region, the two top finalists will convene at CIA Greystone in Napa Valley for the super-primo finals in September, vying for a $10,000 grand prize and a one-year supply of fresh Foster Farms chicken.
So there we were, sitting down at 10:30 in the morning with the first contestant’s recipe being served: Brown Rice Chicken Salad. May not be the most compelling of recipe names but the dish more than made up for it with great color, texture, flavor and a great use of common but fresh-and-delicious ingredients. The first dish is always the hardest to judge, as you might imagine. After all, they’re not really being judged in a vacuum. Inherently it comes down to comparisons as you eventually witness the style and flavor profiles of other dishes to come.
But after all was said and done and tasted and considered — that first taste of rice mixed with vegetables, almonds, Parmesan cheese, herbs and dried cranberries was a stand-out and one of the two finalists for the day. Bravo, Marci Adelsman from Kent!
The other finalist moving on to the West Coast finals next month is Monica King from Vancouver, Washington. Her Balsamic Mushroom Chicken with Honey Goat Cheese was deceptively straight-forward looking. But it had a wonderful balance of flavors–tart balsamic with cream goat cheese, savory mushrooms with a touch of sweet honey–that showed off a standard skinless, boneless chicken breast in style. Just the kind of recipe that home cooks love: simple to make but with a great “wow” factor that dinner guests will relish.
Cheers to Monica and Marci for their creative and flavorful dishes. Congratulations on your regional wins and best wishes to you both for the finals! Most of all, have fun.