Houston restaurant reviews, industry profiles and food culture

Small Bites

February 23, 2013

Small Bites: Dessert Judging at the Houston World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Competition

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The judges’ room for the dessert portion of the Houston World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Competition

“Small Bites” = Phaedra’s random musings and Food-As-Life stories

Yesterday, thanks to an opportunity that came through the Houston Press’ “Eating… Our Words” blog, I was able to participate as a judge for the Dessert Competition portion of the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Competition that is hosted in conjunction with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. It was along with about 35 other people, including Greg Morago, Food Editor of the Houston Chronicle; John DeMers, freelance writer and host of the Delicious Mischief radio show; and Eric Sandler, editor of Eater Houston.

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Having some photo fun with Eater Houston’s Eric Sandler

I used to compete with the team that my former employer, Phoenix Exploration, would send to the Halliburton BBQ Competitions. I was always the one to make dessert, so I understand how challenging cooking in cast iron with no real oven can be. With the right recipe and understanding the limitations of what you have to work with, though, you can make some really great desserts.

We were given a few guidelines, including not doing anything that would influence the other judges at the table, such as making comments or obvious facial expressions. It’s a bit like playing poker.

Of the nine desserts I tried, only three really impressed me. A few were cloyingly sweet, unattractive or downright messy. (When you receive a dessert, the first thought should not be “Wow, that looks like a mess. What is it?”) There was an acceptable strawberry cake, but I couldn’t tell whether or not it came from a boxed mix. A promising-looking carrot cake had a tragic flaw: it was burned on the bottom.

Two of the three that I really liked knocked my socks off. One was a bread pudding with lardons and thin strips of bacon. Maybe I’m a sucker for falling for such an obvious ploy for my affection, but I don’t care. Call me easy. I loved this dessert and the pork went oh-so-well with the sweetened bread and toasted pecans.

The other dessert that blew me away were cream-filled, baked donuts with a light, bready, puffy shell. The surface was dusted with a cinnamon and sugar mix that gave them a light sweetness and additional punch of flavor.

The third dessert that I really liked scared me at first. I opened the Styrofoam box to reveal something that looked like a brownie that had been burned so badly that the bottom looked like charcoal. Thankfully, that “charcoal” was actually Oreo cookie mix, so the cake ended up being brownie on top and Oreo on the bottom. It went wonderfully well with the school lunch-sized carton of milk that the judging committee provided to each of us judges.

I appreciated how kindly we judges were treated. Greg and I were able to grab a drink and a snack in the adjacent room while we were waiting to enter the judging room. In there was a hunter’s stand.

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We wondered what was inside.

It turned out to be what I look like in the mornings before my coffee.

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Each judge received a certificate of appreciation, which will go into my scrapbook. The tables were preset with not only those little cartons of milk, but bottled water. There were plenty of disposable plates and utensils (although both Greg and I felt like we’d rather see biodegradable paper plates instead of guilt-inducing Styrofoam).

Experiences like these enable me to expand my own horizons as a writer. I am always grateful for these opportunities and still have a sense of wonder that anyone thinks that my opinion is worth something.

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