Saturday, June 2, 2007

My First Cookoff!

What a fun time! I can't remember when I've had that much fun. It was a totally different feel that cooking at home alone.

First of all, there's no time pressure when you're doing it yourself. In this cookoff, each entrant (or team) had a judging time. Mine was 1:30. So, you have to time your preparations in such a way that your food is done at just the right time to prep your presentation and take it to the judges. That can be tricky, as you'll see!

Second, there were a lot of other people there. I was the 8th entrant, and so there were 7 other teams. Getting to know them and interacting with them was a lot of fun, and I learned quite a few tricks.

I got there at around 8:00 in the AM. I'd spent the previous hour and a half or so gathering up all the things I'd need (still, I forgot a couple of things, like my chopping board for the veggies...). I arrived, signed in, and claimed my space.

The rules require you to make two dishes: A main dish and either a bread or a dessert. Both of mine required only an hour or so to cook, but the rolls I would bake needed all morning to rise. So, I fired up a few coals, so I could warm the water for the yeast and melt the butter. The dough came together pretty easily, and so I set about meeting the other dutch'ers.

One team, to the south of me, came with a professional setup. Tables, canopy, tablecloths, centerpiece, all kindsa stuff. They were also doing a salmon dish, and a chocolate cake.

On the other side of me was Paul and Susan. They were doing a beef brisket, and had already begun smoking it when I arrived. There were more across the way. Troy did a white chili, another husband and wife did a stew. There were a couple of friends that did a jambalaya, and a young husband and wife that did a pork crown roast. All of us had plenty of down time while we were waiting to start cooking or actually doing the cooking to visit and get to know each other. The best part of the entire day.

Timing is critical. Finally, at about 11:30, I began chopping up the veggies for the salmon (Troy loaned me his cutting board).

At noon, I fired up the coals, and half past, I had them both cooking.

I started to get really nervous by about 1:00. It didn't look like it was cooking as quickly as I needed it to. By 1:15, I think the salmon was pretty much done, but the rolls were still lookin' grim!

Jodi came by and offered to go and get a plate for the presentation. She didn't get back in time, but that was OK. The rolls came through, and the salmon came through, and I put them all on a garnished up DO lid flipped upside down. I actually had it done with about four or five minutes to spare before it was my turn and I was called up to present it to the judges.

This is how it turned out. I was pretty pleased! But would the judges be?

They judged based on a big list of criteria, both on the taste and presentation of the final dishes, but also on the process of cooking it and your interaction with others as they walked around your workspace. I think there were four "field judges" and another four "taste judges". Each dish was tasted and graded, and then they spent another twenty or thirty minutes tabulating up all the results

While that was going on, we were all unwinding and tasting each other's dishes. That was the second most fun part!

In the end, I took fourth place. Not bad. I didn't get any of the cash or big prizes, but I was quite pleased with my results. Wynonna and Tom, the ones with the big rig and the most experience ended up tops. Their cake was the best! Their salmon was good, too.

The second place folks won with a delicious pork crown roast. They should have won, IMHO. I thought theirs was the best, hands down. The third place was kind of a surprise. A team, new to competition, with just a simple beef stew and a pineapple upside down cake. But they were both delicious.

Here's some pics of the winners:
Pretty impressive stuff, if you ask me.

Overall, I was very excited to just go and meet these folks. I had a great time! I'll definitely be doing more public cooking!


  1. Mark,
    Hey it's Troy! I finally am checking my email after the cook off! My wife and I had a baby on 6/21, so life's been crazy since the cook off. I totally agree with you about the second place winners, they should have won. One thing I was really frustrated with were the rules that were sent out prior to the event. They specifically stated we were being judged on simplicity not complexity. I really felt like the winning dishes won on presentation only. They didn't have much flavor. I liked your salmon much better and the cake tasted kind of plain. If I would have known ahead of time that we were being judged on complexity I feel like I could have done better. I wouldn't have gone with a cobbler that failed! I previously worked in an Italian restaurant for a couple of years and helped pick out and prepare monthly gourmet dinners that were full of flavor. I guess I'm pretty frustrated because I feel like I could have gourmeted the crap out of the first place team. Oh well, there's always next year and next year someone from Eagle Mountain will win. Not a team that travels from competition to competition. Anyway, I'm at work and don't have my recipe but I will try to remember to get it to you (the white chili, not the cobbler ;o) ). Can you email me your salmon recipe?


  2. Troy! Good to hear from you. Sorry, I've misplaced your email from the day of the cookoff. You can email me at

    Congrats on your new baby!

    Actually, my salmon recipe is in this blog, in the previous entry to this one, called "Dutchin' for the Folks"




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