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Since beginning in 2012, the World Food Championships has established itself as the premier event in the world of “Food Sport.” Contestants compete in regional events to advance to championships for the chance to share in hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money. Unlike other food competitions which specialize in specific food types like barbecue, chili or burgers, the WFC holds simultaneous competitions in ten categories to name division winners that then face off at “The Final Table” to be judged by a panel of culinary celebrities that select a final World Food Champion.
The categories where both professional chefs and home cooks compete side-by-side for the right to earn a piece of the prize pie are the aforementioned barbecue, chili and burger plus dessert, sandwich, bacon, chicken, steak, seafood and the World Chef Challenge, a category reserved for professional culinarians who earn the right to compete through qualifying events or by receiving special invitations from the event organizers. There are also online recipe contests that can earn competitors a chance to be part of the festivities.
The standard in judging a competitive cooking contest is that each dish is judged individually, not compared to other dishes, but usually all the entries are at least the same type of food, such as ribs, chicken, brisket, and so on. In order to judge such disparate types of food across WFC categories on an even playing field and to ensure that they can be fairly evaluated, the WFC has developed a proprietary EAT (Execution/Appearance/Taste) criteria of judging and scoring. Volunteers can take judging classes at regional events or during the actual championship week to be certified as official WFC judges and take part in selecting the winners of preliminary rounds of the championships.
This year, the 7th World Food Championships will return to The Wharf Marina, a popular retail and entertainment complex in Orange Beach, Alabama near Gulf Shores and the Florida state line. Preliminary rounds and category finals will be contested over five days from November 7 thru 11, with the category winners moving to the Final Table at a later date in an event that will receive all sorts of media attention.
Cooking competitions have seen increased popularity on television, but can they really be fun for a spectator in real life? If you’ve ever viewed a major barbecue competition from the sidelines you know you have about the same chance to actually eat some world-class ‘cue at those events as you would being asked to hit a shot for Tiger Woods at the Masters. Unless you are competing or are friends with a cook team, your food options are pretty much limited to the sorts of vending trailers that you would see on the midway of a county fair, and who wants to eat carnival food when there’s so much amazing smoked meat a few steps away?!
At the World Food Championships, however, special efforts are made to ensure that paying spectators have the chance to eat as well as watch. First of all, anyone can judge after passing the training course, which only takes a few hours of time that includes eating some fantastic sample entries. Sitting in judgment of these competitors, some of whom have trained for years to be a part of the WFC, is an honor and a privilege—it’s also a treat! Even if you only judge one preliminary round for one category, you’re going to want to skip breakfast that day. If you’re dedicated, you can judge multiple rounds and categories over the course of the week.
If you don’t decide to make the commitment to judge, the World Food Championships will still give you plenty of chances to sample food whether you take advantage of the Walmart tasting Pavilion to try out all sorts of new products or if you sign up for the VIP package that includes the opportunity to enjoy celebrity chef demos, complimentary refreshments and a birds-eye-view of the turn-in action, all while getting a taste of the actual turn-in samples for the 2018 championship.
Another special opportunity returning for the second year is “The Yacht Club Dinner Party,” a progressive dinner where guests will sample dishes prepared by five WFC past champions. The biggest treat is that these meals will be served on five different million-dollar yachts docked at The Wharf Marina, so you’ll get a chance to move from boat to boat enjoying a taste of the good life! These five championship chefs have earned a combined total of more than $100,000 competing at the World Food Championships, but you can taste their award-winning cuisine for the cost of an upscale dinner out.
Best of all, patrons who purchase either the VIP-level tickets or take part in the The Yacht Club Dinner Party will be entered into a drawing to take part in a new opportunity that offers a peek into the most exclusive perk of any cooking competition: the grazing table. What’s that, you ask? WFC President/CEO Mike McCloud explains, “At most competitions, volunteer judges might only get to taste the five to six entries in their category, but the ‘grazing table’ has always been the place to be. Any leftovers from the judging are returned to one spot where volunteers, table captains and VIPs get to sample as much as they want from any entry they see. It’s always been a secret bonus for being in-the-know.”
“So we’ve decided that it’s time that the secret is out,” McCloud continues. “We’re organizing a special tented area next to the judges’ tent where our invited guests and local dignitaries like politicians and sports celebrities like Final Table judge Bo Jackson will get to dig into special dishes that have been prepared by the contestants especially for the grazing table. We’ll have several grazing tent sessions throughout the day, and lucky winners from our drawing will have the chance to experience the inner sanctum of competitive cooking and judging.” This doesn’t even mean eating the leftovers after the judges since the plates at the special grazing table will be the primary dish that is prepared specifically for appearance judging by each contestant. There will be three winners per day for each day Thursday through Sunday during the WFC.
If this sounds like your kind of fun, make plans to be in Orange Beach this November and sign up for your VIP tickets or The Yacht Club Dinner Party experience at the event website.
Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink and travel writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink and travel writer based out of Nashville who is proud that his WFC judge’s card is #0096, making him an early adopter of the EAT methodology.