One year ago I had the distinct honor to be crowned the grand prize winner of the National Cornbread Festival Cook-off https://nationalcornbread.com !! My "Too Gouda to be True
' Corncakes with Pancetta-Laced Seafood Cream Sauce https://www.dishofftheblock.com/Recipes/TOO-'GOUDA'-TO-BE-TRUE-CORN-CAKES-WITH-PANCETTA-LACED-SEAFOOD-CREAM-SAUCE
wowed the judges and I took home a prize of $5000 cash, a Five Star Gas Range, a prize pack loaded with amazing gifts including cast iron cookware from Lodge Mfg http://www.lodgemfg.com, and a Golden Ticket to the World Food Championships https://worldfoodchampionships.com! This was my first 'live' cook-off victory and I couldn't have been more thrilled!
I kept in touch with the fabulous people at Lodge Mfg, the main sponsor of the event, and we collaborated and decided that it would be very cool to bring the reigning champ (Me!) back as a judge! You can't compete for 3 years after you take 1st prize, so this was a really awesome opportunity to stay involved and get the coolest perspective on what goes through a judges mind and what are the keys to making a winning dish!!
My first discovery about being a judge vs. a contestant is that my morning was wayyyyy less stressful! None of the competition butterflies or anxiety over worrying that I would finish in time, I wouldn't burn my cakes, etc....! Being a judge brings with it a different kind of excitement that comes with the enormous responsibility of deciding the fate of these talented home cooks!
The two requirements for the contest are that the cooks must use 1 package of Martha White Cornbread Mix https://www.marthawhite.com and they must use Lodge Cast Iron http://www.lodgemfg.com in their preparation. It is amazing to see how many different ways a simple cornbread mix can be elevated and incorporated into a 'gourmet dish'.
The top 10 finalists are chosen by Lodge from hundreds of entries. The entrants must submit a written recipe and a photograph of their dish. Lodge then narrows the field to 20 dishes that they make in-house and taste test. From those 20 dishes they choose the top 10 who are invited to compete in a live head to head competition at the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg, TN.
Each judge is given a binder that includes a bio on each contestant, their written recipe, and a score sheet with the judging criteria:
The first cook starts cooking at 11am sharp and they stagger in the remaining ten cooks at 15 minute intervals. This is a great methodology as it allows the judges sufficient time to taste and score each dish. The competition is Live streamed on Facebook and has 40-60,000 people tuning in at any given time.... No Pressure Cooks!!
The first competitor, Gloria Bradley, is off an cooking:
At the end of the 1 hour time limit, each cook presents their dish to the judges and then individual tasting portions are handed out.
Judges commentary on the first dish!
The second cook, Judy Armstrong, is almost done:
Cook number #3, Nancy Angelici presents her dish to the judges:
Shauna Havey is cooking up something yummy in this classic Lodge Aebleskiver pan!
Shannon Kohn is on deck!
Lidia Haddadian putting the finishing touches on her cornbread pizza!
Chera Little is cool as a cucumber whipping up her yummy Asian flavor inspired dish!
Chelsea Hanson presents her twist on a Nashville classic:
The final dish from Linda Cifuentes has a sweet twist:
The judges have deliberated and scores are being tallied! What a team!! Representatives from sponsors Martha White, Dollywood, Southern Cast Iron Magazine, some local restaurants, and more... A great group of talented foodies for sure!
And, the winner is..... Lidia Haddadian!!! That pizza was awesome and so creative!! Congratulations, Lidia!!!
Our winners! Lidia, Shauna, and Chelsea with Henry Lodge... and some big checks! Congrats all!!
What a fantastic day sitting on 'the other side' of the table!! I am not giving up my day job as a contestant, but I would gladly visit 'the other side' again in a heartbeat!!