Wonderful though our judges may be for the FreeFrom Food Awards – and indeed they are! – their work would not be possible without an immense amount of behind the scenes preparation, both in the months leading up to the judging and on the judging days themselves.
First Cressida, seen here laying out cereals for the breakfast judging, has to process all the entries – nearly 400 of them this year – involving endless databases and mind boggling amounts of cross-checking.
Then she organises the judging sessions – and with up to four sessions a day and up to 40 products in a category, a military exercise has nothing on her planning! This also has to include last minute preparation – the making up of mixes, cooking of pasta, heating of ready meals, defrosting of ice creams, cooling of beers – as we try to give every entrant the best chance by preparing it exactly how its maker would have wished.
The sessions organised, then she notifies entrants of what samples they need to send when – complicated again by the fact that they may be ambient, frozen or fresh and therefore need to be delivered well in advance or on the day – and that we need to have enough for the judges to re-taste on the final day to chose the overall winners.
Delivery of the samples is another whole story – we have had up to five delivery men queuing on the doorstep to drop their loads. This is also complicated for for us by the fact that it is very much easier for many entrants to send a case (six, ten or often 12 packs) of their product than to fish out the one or two packs that we actually need. So as fast as the delivery men are arriving with new deliveries, we are out the other door loading up our own vans with excess food and samples to be delivered round the corner to our local Simon Community!
Come the week of the judging Katherine moves in and takes over the kitchen. She is in charge of the making up of bread and cake mixes, heating of sauces, cooking of pastas – not to mention clearing the judging rooms after each category and laying them up again, under Cressida’s gimlet eye, for the next session.
Here are the two of them, mixing and stirring…
‘Are those instructions really right?…’ And I fear that sometimes they are not….. And… ‘I am not sure that pie is really done yet….’
Up in the judging rooms, meanwhile, judges discuss – and I labour away mightly with a calculator, totting up all of their marks for each product so that we can get some average scores to use as a basis for discussion.(Pic courtesy of Pig in the Kitchen!)
Sometimes the scores come out very nicely and the highest scorer is obviously the winner, but by no means always. What, for example, if the best tasting product actually has a poor nutritional profile – or was super easy to make ‘freefrom’ when a lower scoring product was really hard to make gluten or dairy free? What if a lower scoring product really filled a gaping gap in the market whereas a slightly higher scoring one did not?
Or what if we have a nutritionist, a raw foodie, a chef and a coeliac all judging the same product? They are coming at it from very different perspectives and often their marks reflect that with the same product scoring 10/10 and 1/10 depending on the judge!
However, democracy rules and, although judges are encouraged to add their opinions to their judging sheets, even after quite heated debates we reach a conclusion.
At that point they can go home, but for us, a whole new stage of the proceedings begins….
All of those comments need to be transcribed so that we can give feed back to the entrants. Here is C., our genius ‘transcriber’, taking a brief break to look at my blog about the children’s judging session before deciphering the next set of notes…..
Then shortlist need to be drawn up, posted on line and publicised; invitations to the presentation party ‘printed’ and sent out; the winners’ tasting buffet for the party organised; the ‘freefrom’ nibbles planned with the chef and the ‘gluten-free beer bar’ planned with the suppliers; the set up discussed with the video crew to cover the presentations; the sponsors organised to present the prizes to the winners of their sponsored categories; a car booked to ensure that Antony WT arrives moderately on time and – by far the most important – we have to decide on our party dresses!
Enough – I have no time for all this chat…. I need to get on!!