Gwen Fowler



Judging dishes at the shrimp festival: Not as easy as it looks!

Posted 10/2/2011 5:21:00 AM

I had my first experience at judging a food competition Saturday at the 17th annual Beaufort Shrimp Festival, and I learned it’s not as easy as you’d think.

I know. You’re thinking what could possibly be bad about sampling the best shrimp dishes from 11 Lowcountry restaurants?


For one thing, you’ve got to eat a lot of food. And second, it’s hard to pick a winner from so many delicious choices.

Fortunately, fellow judges Robin and Jimmy Boozer of Beaufort had judged the Shrimp Festival contest for the past several years and recommended that we only sample each dish, even if we loved it. Still, we were all full by the time the sampling was over. Almost every one of the restaurants offered more than one dish in their entry. For example, one restaurant entered its shrimp and grits and a shrimp slider.

Two restaurants included four shrimp dishes in their entry, so by the time it was over we’d sampled many more than 11 dishes.

The entries from each restaurant were brought to us one by one, and we had no idea which restaurant had prepared the dishes. We were asked to judge them on taste (50 percent), presentation (25 percent) and theme (25 percent).

The judges’ top award went to Emily’s Restaurant and Tapas Bar, but our choices were factored in with the best booth and the People’s Choice winners for the Silver Cup, which went to Sea Eagle Market.

One of the most gorgeous presentations was a fried shrimp sushi, topped with an edible orchid.

Other judges were Jill Jauch of New River Auto Mall, one of the festival’s sponsors; Frank DeDonato of Charlotte; and Hope Philbrick of Atlanta, a freelance food writer.

The sampling ended on a very sweet note after Josh Castillo, the new chef at Plums sent over a plate of yummy pumpkin cheesecake.

I was full and it was hard to decide among so many shrimp delicacies. Still, if I’m asked to judge a food contest again, I’ll be there in a flash.