Photo by Margaret Downing
Click here for plenty more photos of fried goodness.
The food was carefully laid out on each judge's plate. First up, a beef burrito taco. We had palate cleansers (pickles, crackers and green grapes) and water at the ready. Cameras were clicking and video was running. A microphone was on each of the three round judging tables. It was picture perfect. The wind picked up, blowing napkins and judging slips all over the place.
It also airlifted the plate of the judge next to me. John DeMers watched as his plate and its food did a complete flip in the air and came down the wrong way. "Shit," he said, using a word he'd never put on the air doing his Delicious Mischief show on KTRH radio. Two plates later, his rice / etoufee mixture came winging my way as well. I zigged, he intercepted in mid-air and somehow it didn't land on my shirt.
Right away I knew two things: you can never tell what's going to happen in a food judging contest and how stupid can you be to wear a white shirt to one of these things.
The first-ever Gold Buckle Foodie Awards at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo got underway this morning at the out-of-doors Kids Country Stage with equal measures of good will and good food. Intrepid members of the media (ok, we were there for free food) judged the vendors' food in the categories of: Best Burger, Best Taco/Burrito, Best Baked Potato, Best Bar-B-Que, Best Fried Food, Best Food-On-A-Stick, Best Dessert, Best Seafood and (no one could figure out what criteria was used for this) Favorite Food.
It was delightful. It was fun. And after a while, it was a bit like having a death in the family -- when the neighbors keep bringing dishes of food and after a while you just want them to stop. I tried to wave off the last container of chocolate chip cookies to another table, but the volunteer carrying them said, "Sorry, they just took another dessert."
So we dug in and, actually, missing the cookies would have been a mistake. Fellow judge Cleverley Stone (Fox 26) thought they were great -- but still thought the chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick was the overall dessert winner. I disagreed, opting instead for the funnel cake covered in ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream.
But by the time the cookies arrived, we'd been eating for more than two hours. So the food greeted with great delight earlier in the day, well, it faced a tougher audience now. And sad to say, some of the judges did not stay the course. Ken Hoffman, the Houston Chronicle columnist who I've always secretly admired for taking his propensity for liking less-than-high-brow food (and writing columns about it), made an early exit. Asked for advice early on, he rejected any notion of pacing. "I don't pace myself. I'm like a rabbit."
Fox's Lanny Griffith bounced from table to table, filling in for judges who left, those who went for a brief potty break and those who just needed to walk around for a while before they could face another course.
One thing we weren't thinking about was calorie counts, but in the interest of public safety, I am including an advisory from the Oliver Foundation that came out today warning that all the things we ate are indulgent and highly caloric. And that if you ate this stuff for three weeks straight (the run of the livestock show and rodeo) you could gain seven pounds (how did they figure that out?) Turkey legs: 1,000 calories; fried oreos clock in at 420, a baked potato loaded with cheese and chili hits 1,500.
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The Foundation goes on to advise that we should "skip the soda, beer and margaritas and drink water...avoid deep fried foods." Well shoot me now. Actually they go on to say you should indulge, but share the serving with friends so you'll eat less.
Harry Miller, who runs the World Champion Bar-be-que Contest for the HLSR, was brought in only last week to run the food-vendor judging. "We have the expertise for a contest like this," he said, and truth to tell, he did keep things moving. It was a good way to show off the food available at the show -- and how far the food offerings have come from the days when you got a dry hamburger patty, some cotton candy and a bag of popcorn and considered yourself on top of the world. On the other hand, it was pretty rare to eat too much of that.
Oh, and the winners after two hours and 20 minutes of solid, non-stop eating are:
Best Taco/Burrito- Freebirds
Best Seafood- Cajun's Unlimited
Best Baked Potato- Yoakum Packing
Best Burger- Prince's Hamburgers
Best Food On a Stick- Burton Sausage
Best Fried Food- Holmes' Smokehouse
Favorite Food- Bum's Blue Ribbon
Best Barbeque- Holmes' Smokehouse
Best Dessert- Granny's Cheesecake (Only entry with a perfect score)