Side Hustle: Impressions from the Judges' Table at the Holiday Fixins-Off

T. Palmer
Judging was as fun as it looks.
(View Hanna Quevedo's slideshow of the Holiday Fixins-Off)

The battle for side dish supremacy took place last weekend at Holiday Fixins-Off, the third battle from SF Food Wars. We have somehow lucked into the role of veteran guest judge at these matches, first at the Mac Battle Royale w/Cheese and then at the Mini Cupcake Clash. Yes, life is hard for your SFoodie.

Actually, judging a cooking competition is not as easy as it might appear, though it's always a large amount of fun. It's not enough to generally enjoy the theme item in question; one must consider the Russian roulette aspect of putting one's digestive system in the hands of strangers with rampant imaginations, as well as just stomaching all those different flavors in general.

While in some ways the HFO was one of the hardest to judge -- Rosie Branson Gill (who curates 18 Reasons), Sean Thomas (who cooks at the Blue Plate), and I agonized over our choices -- it was also the easiest to digest. Entries were creative in general, but not at the expense of taste. We all felt good instead of queasy at the end of it all!

T. Palmer
Turkey and cone: Two words that shouldn't go together.

It is always fun to see how the judges' choices differ or mesh with the peoples' choice and photographers' choice. In the latter's case, the winning Turkey Cone Cylones from team Boozy and the Beast were certainly festive looking, but we wanted the cold mashed potatoes, congealed gravy, and turkey shards out of our mouths immediately.

We agreed with the people when it came to the awesomeness of Heartbaker's Drunken Punkin Puddin' Bread; they gave it top honors and we awarded it third place. Turns out Heartbaker is a full-time pro caterer by the name of Sybil Johnson, a CIA grad who's cooked at Kokkari, Aqua, and Pisces. So I guess we all have good palates.

In the end, after grappling over garam masala-spiced sweet potato latkes -- the lone dish repping Hanukkah -- and chicken-stuffed lumpia, we awarded second place to Hustle & Pout's Great Balls of Spinach, a clever hybrid of your green thing and the stuffing thing in one beautiful, tiny package. And it was clear throughout the afternoon that Ready, Willing, and Mable's Tangy Love -- a fresh cranberry/orange/ginger relish -- would take our top honors.

Simple and refreshing, it was the single item we wouldn't allow volunteers to clear from the judges' table the whole time, a reliable palette cleanser in between some of the more questionable entries. Mable -- aka Sister Mable Syrup from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence -- had no idea we were so enamored with her dish and the look on her face as she was announced brought out an infectious happiness in the crowd.  

T. Palmer
Sister Mable Syrup is shocked by her win.

SF Food Wars' next battle will have an artisanal bread theme and will take place in late January; we'll have more details -- ie. the cute name and exact date -- as they become solidified.

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