Markin: How do you judge good taste?

Judging food and wine competitions is not as easy as it looks.

I have had the privilege of judging a number of food and wine competitions, from a best donut contest, to a flight of three dozen rosés at the Okanagan Wine Festivals. After the first dozen, you’re kind of done with both.

Wineries are asked to submit wines to numerous award programs all the time. Not all awards are created equal. It pays to look at the list of judges; what are their credentials? Is there a peoples’ choice category you can participate in?

As for food competitions, one of the best starts next Wednesday at the Interior Provincial Exhibition in Armstrong. Known more commonly as the IPE, or the Armstrong Fair, as an end of the summer staycation, this is at the top of my list.

Also, I get to spend five days as head judge of the IPE’s Iron Chef Competition.

Restaurants and resorts from around the interior send teams of two to compete, and amateur teams also have a category. These folks do not get easy ingredients. They get a basket of secret stuff that in the past has included weird melons, spices, uncommon veggies — and they must use it all.

But what about judging? It is not as easy as it looks.

First, there is timing. Your plate is late, and points get docked. And you feel bad for the team that loses a point for a minute of tardiness.

Second, plating. In a world of Instagrams, if you are not thoughtful and artistic with presentation, a fellow chef can beat you with a less flavourful dish that evokes oohs and aahs just looking at it. That said, make it too complicated. Last year a dish involving dry ice was beautiful, but ended up freezing part of my lip and removing a layer of skin cells — and that’s not good.

Finally, taste. Consider this: there are a few flavours in this world that I don’t like. If a chef uses them, I have to put personal feeling aside and judge it on the merit of the whole dish. And that can be hard in front of a crowd when you have to try not to make your “scrunchy” face.

Rumour has it, the first team ever from Penticton will be there. How about you?

Save the date

Aug. 26/27: Front Street Brasserie, Hillside Winery Winemaker’s Dinner. Four courses paired with wines from Hillside. Limited seats, call 236-422-2008.

Aug. 31 to Sept. 4: Interior Provincial Exhibition, Armstrong.

Sept. 10, Summerland: First annual Summerland Feast of Farms, Dickinson Family Farm. Fundraiser for the expansion of a community garden in

Sept. 18, Penticton:  Small, artisan wine producers gather in Penticton for Garagiste North. Sample wines that are hard to find, made by the small guys.

Sept. 25, Kelowna: Great Canadian Bacon Chase. A five kilometre walk or run. With bacon stations.

Allison Markin is the food and libations columnist for the Penticton Western News. She can be reached at and on Twitter @OkanaganTaste.