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The Trickle - a flood of food

June 8, 2011 - Brian Ferry
The Inaugural Burger Fest was a painful experience for at least one person in attendance. As an experienced food judge, I was given the honor of joining the ranks of the judges for this new event. As a stubborn individual with a serious reputation for eating capacity, I did not feel well afterwards. My formal food judging experience began a few years ago in a tie-breaker role at the annual Thorne's BiLo/Times Observer Holiday Cookbook contest. I have been a full judge for that event for the last two years. I tackled my first RibFest judging assignment in 2010. There was no doubt in my mind I was ready for burgers. I've eaten a heck of a lot more of those than ribs in my years. I was placed in the "professional" category. Not because I was a professional judge, but because I would be judging the burgers being sold at the event. The amateur category was a non-profit event. Some of my fellow judges helped me out with the finer points of judging hamburgers. I didn't need a lot of help with the 'taste' portion of the judging, but there were three other categories — presentation, originality, and overall quality — to consider. Jared pointed out that the type of cheese could count for some originality points and the simple act of lightly toasting the bun accounts for another point or two. When he asked what kind of cheese was on the second burger, I said, "white." My ignorance was quickly rectified, though I don't remember what the correct answer was. Each of the eight burger vendors provided two burgers of their choice for our consumption. The judges were not told which burgers came from what vendors. One of the samples was a group of four sliders, deemed acceptable by the organizers because two sliders was a single order. Three burger-meisters sent single burgers, one produced a burger with chopped pork on top, another sent double burgers, one burger was sized to a hoagie roll, and one entrant sent one single burger and one enormous triple burger. Some of the meat was seasoned — one seemed largely composed of hot sausage. Another was a mixture of a lean beef and something else good. French fries, cole slaw, onion rings, onion petals, sliced onions, garlic, peppers, tomato, lettuce, ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, barbecue sauce, chipotle-southwest sauce, and many different cheeses festooned the burgers. One featured jalapeno peppers and pineapple. It was good, but I liked the other burger from that vendor even better. Some vendors went heavy on the toppings; some sent burgers with only cheese. One participant's entries included a burger with cheese and one without. I was amazed when I found that I enjoyed the cheeseless burger more. As each burger was presented to us, we judged the presentation. The one that came with tiny bottles of ketchup and delicately sliced strawberries earned a couple extra points. The ones with the eight-pack bun from any grocery store didn't. I wanted presentation to be less important to my judging than taste, so I squeezed the 1-to-10 scale down to about 4-to-8 for presentation. The best tasting burger was not going to lose because it didn't have bells and whistles. Some of the burgers were halved, if the vendor sent two of the same thing. The others were quartered so each judge got a piece of each burger. Then, we ate. I took a decent first bite of every burger. If I had to, I'd pick out a chunk of the patty so I could evaluate it free of any potent toppings. The first several entries were single burgers. I finished off every bit, minus small amounts of lettuce and condiments that fell off during the biting process. They were good-sized burgers, but turned out to be the smallest of the products I ate. Then we got some bigger sandwiches. I had already set a precedent of eating every bite, so I kept that up. Of course, the triple-decker and the sub sandwich burgers were last. My wardrobe choice for the day was a wise one. I wore the biggest shirt in my closet. I was the only judge who ate every bit of every burger. That's a fact that made me feel proud, foolish, and full to bursting. When the judging was over, I waddled around the Gus Macker basketball tournament, trying to focus on the efforts of the athletes without much success. Then I made the slow journey back to my car. When I got a call as I was passing under Route 6, I broke a sweat trying to walk and talk on the phone. For the rest of the day, I could barely move. Even I have limits. I met my match at the Burger Fest.


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