- Food Sport is SERIOUS business!! Take a look at some of these statistics: During the week of November 7-12, 2017 at the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, AL, 8862 dishes were created and judged. 448 cooking teams participated with 51 of those coming from outside the United States. The event utilized over 400 certified judges and 400 volunteers which included students in 15 area culinary programs. Contestants were both professional chefs and home cooks, and their ages ranged from 14 to 71. The much-touted and very popular Food Network even came to town to document and film the action.
- A lionfish is edible. Yes. Something with 18 venomous spines can be cleaned and eaten. This fish has become quite a problem in the Gulf of Mexico because it has no native predators, can only be caught by spearfishing, and the females can lay up to 40,000 eggs every 4 days. We may not be able to eat them into submission, but something has to be done. Lion fish are devouring and crowding out the fish we DO want in the Gulf. NUISANCE GROUP is affiliated with Alabama Gulf Seafood, which is one of the sponsors of the World Food Championships. Nuisance stands for “nuisance, underutilized, invasive, sustainable, available, noble culinary endeavors.” Read more about their efforts here. Chef Chris Sherrill, formerly of the Flora-Bama Yacht Club and now owner of SALT Restaurant in San Roc Cay, is spearheading this effort. Steve and I had dinner there last week, and Steve tried lion fish for the first time. It was NOT his favorite, but he was a good sport about it.
- A new sausage is now in production that is delicious and actually very good for you. Wampler’s has an All Natural Sausage that contains 327 mg. of omega-3 fatty acids and 15 mcg. of selenium per serving, plus it is rich in DHA and EPA. The hogs are raised completely without antibiotics or growth hormones. The sausage has no gluten, no MSG, no nitrates, nitrites, preservatives, fillers or artificial ingredients. Let’s ask our local grocers to stock it.
- Southern oysters are good year-round — not just “in months with an R in them.” Lane Zirlatt, co-owner of Murder Point Oyster Farm in Bayou La Batre, is both fervent and zealous about that fact. He says that the water temperature is such that his guys wear wet suits all but two months out of the year. Every sack of oysters has a traceable tag, so the restaurants can know exactly where they came from. In the summer, the law says they have one hour from the moment they come out of the water until they are refrigerated — based on the outside temperature. At Murder Point, they can get their oysters from the water to mechanical refrigeration in 15 minutes. In terms of a personal testimony, Murder Point Oysters are the best Steve and I have ever tasted. Lane brought some in for the media people at WFC to taste. He shucked them on the spot. Oh, so good! I noticed a little more salt in the taste this year, but after that initial burst of salt came the rich buttery creaminess. Lane explained that Hurricane Nate had stirred up a lot of salt in their area when it roared through a few months ago.
- There are times when it is perfectly acceptable to “play with your food.” In fact, WFC had a lot of fun food games set up especially designed for children. In addition to a cake walk, the Planters Peanuts van and Oscar Weinermobile, there were tents for donut stacking, pumpkin bowling, egg tossing and corn shucking with oven mitts.
- There is a competition to suit just about any interested foodie. This year Granny Grilling (obviously for older ladies and judged by 20 young people under the age of 16) and Thrilla at the Grilla (pitting 10 first responders against each other) were added to the traditional contests under the headings of Bacon, Barbecue, Burger, Chef, Chili, Dessert, Recipe, Sandwich, Seafood and Steak.
- Food can kill you. I know. Food is necessary to sustain life, but for some people, certain foods cause reactions that result in death. In recognition of this reality, WFC hosted a Food Allergy Symposium and brought in Celebrity Chef Elizabeth Falkner to discuss some of the major factors to be considered when cooking for those with food allergies. She demonstrated how to prepare dishes for those who can’t have dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, sesame and corn and suggested many delicious-sounding substitutes. She strongly recommended that diners with such restrictions notify a restaurant ahead of time that you are coming in for a meal. Most chefs will do their best to accommodate the needs, but even so, people with severe allergies must educate themselves very thoroughly.
- Bacon is far more than just a long, skinny strip of meat sitting beside some eggs or pancakes. Since I am a certified judge for the World Food Championships, I had the very fun assignment this year of judging the Top Ten entries in the Bacon category. The judge sitting next to me, by the way, was Bill Stitt, owner of Bill-E’s Bacon in Fairhope, AL. His card reads: “When Berkshire Red Pigs and Chantilly White Pigs Get Together, Magic Happens.” I, of course, didn’t see his score card, but my guess is that he knew a good bacon dish when he tasted it. Oh my goodness! It has been a long time since I saw such an array of imaginatively prepared and heavenly-tasting dishes. Here are a few to make your mouth water.
Do you love to cook? Do you think you have a dish that you make better than anyone else? Do you have a competitive nature? Are you creative and willing to put unusual ingredients together? Are you an adventurous eater? Do you think you’d like to become a certified judge? Check out the World Food Championships website and start asking questions. Maybe I’ve convinced you to find your own place in the Food Sport arena.