Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My day of being a chili judge.

“Judging chili”

    The only reason Bob thought to choose me to judge the chili contest was because of my friendship with food critic Brad Meyer. Brad’s coattails have carried me into many an eating venture. Of course, I always tried to add to my credibility by pretending to know stuff like what wine to have while eating iguana eggs.

    Regardless how I got there, there I was -- in a room with three other judges. There were supposed to be seven. After a couple of minutes of careful computation, I determined that three judges had dropped out. At this point I was getting the least bit leery.

“This is going to be a blind judging,” Bob told us. I thought he meant we wouldn’t know whose chili we were eating. I had no idea he was referring to the ocular condition I’d develop while in the room.

The other three judges were wisely selected. Mike is a big guy who drives a big rig. He’s a sweetheart. -- Let me change that. -- He’s a really nice truck driver, who has consumed some of the best and worst chili in the country.

Then there’s Roger. Roger is the smartest person I know. He’s got a doctorate in math… or maybe one of the sciences. Roger is the person Stephen Hawking calls when he gets stumped.

Finally we have local attorney Scott Golemon. Scott knows more about BBQ, chili and outdoor cooking than anyone in the world. Possibly. Scott has prepared food for more charity events than anyone I know. He dragged me kicking and screaming to help out a time or two. I only did it because… well, he dragged me kicking and screaming.

So, there you have us. I’m thinking -- four judges with maybe ten samples to assess – we’ll be outta there in 20 minutes. Turned out there were 22 chili’s to sample, each given a coded number between one and 100. I’m now realizing that I have stepped into something really bad.

The 22 samples were divided into two groups – Eight were classified as “Real Texas Chili.” The other 14 were classified “Alternative to Real Texas.” Apparently, alternative chili is anything that has beans or other foreign matter in it. Who knew? Everyone except Mark.

Fortunately, the chili was served up in small cups, and we were given tiny spoons. I heaped my spoon with the first chili. It took about two, maybe three seconds before I went to my knees. My first bottle of water was drained in a nanosecond.

I could barely comprehend what Christi, our judging supervisor, was saying. Sounded like “Never farm a school flag pole.” After my fourth “What?” I determined she was screaming, “That was number 82, Mark Farkle! So, score it from one to five with five being the best!”

Eight Texas chili’s to assess and we’re using five numbers. It made no sense, but, at that very moment, little made sense. Through swollen, watery eyes, I searched for my left shoe.

“Okay, now here’s the second one. It’s number 37, and you need to—“ Christi’s voice trailed off. Forty minutes later, the “Texas Chili” samples were gone. I had the top of my shirt in my mouth and was holding a sheet of paper with a bunch of ones on it.

The next thing I hear is Scott saying, “Okay, guys, let’s discuss each of these. I hate to just add up some numbers without a discussion.”

I worked my way out of the fetal position in the corner and said, “Scott, I love you like a brother, but I don’t give two hoots to hear what you, Roger Einstein or Breaker 1-9 over here think about what we just ate. Christi, tally the numbers!” – The part of my brain that deals with tact had obviously been seared.

I was so sure Scott was going to take back my special lawyer discount. I never know when I’ll need a good lawyer, so I put Scott on speed dial. Instead of getting upset with me, Scott said, “Okay, Mr. Fussy Pants, let’s just tally the thing.” I had never heard him utter the words Fussy and Pants in or out of a courtroom. It just seemed so unprofessional.

The Best Texas Chili award went to— I don’t remember. Nor do I care. What I do remember is looking at 14 new cups of alternative chili. The cups appeared so much larger.

I can’t tell you much about what happened after that. I see images of me stealing Roger’s bottled water and him going all Quantum Physics on me. I think I may have slugged Mike’s fist with my face. It was all a blur.

Kay told me that after about two hours Scott came out dragging me by the seat of my pants and plopped me in a chair. He said, “He’s all right, Kay. There’s still a faint pulse.” He told her to let him know when she was ready leave, and he’d drag my ornery carcass to the car. 

Kay said she didn’t recall Scott mentioning anything about a lawyer discount. – “Hey, how ‘bout helping judge a chili contest? It’ll be fun!” There’s not a big enough rope.


You can contact Mark at mark@rooftopwriter.com.

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