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Organizing a Community Cooking Competition


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#1 Chris Amirault

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Posted 11 June 2007 - 12:26 PM

Over the next six weeks, one of my family members is going to be the "Big Bean" organizing a chili competition in her community. She's got to take care of all of the details with contestants, judges, and the public involved, and she's not sure where to start.

If you've got experience in any kind of community cooking or baking competition -- particularly from the organizing side, though participating probably gave you some insights too! -- please share your thoughts. We're not talking about Iron Chef or the World Pastry Championships here; we're talking a small community with an organizer who cares about doing things right. How did you coordinate the contestants? Determine the evaluation criteria? Gather and train the judges? Structure a public vote? Do the things I'm not thinking about?!?
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#2 snowangel

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Posted 12 June 2007 - 11:53 AM

Chris, off the top of my head. How is this being advertised, and what are the critera (other than the cooker sees it as being chili)? What are the facilities like? What are the prize(s)? Is there anything wrong with having sevearl prices -- like the chili that the die hard hot fans like the best? The chili the kids like the best? The chili that the churchwives like the best?

I think if this is a homespun contest without many rules, that there should perhaps be several categories of winners...

After all, my preferred bowl o chili is not necessarily what all would prefer...
Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"

#3 heidih

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Posted 12 June 2007 - 01:23 PM

I have only been to one and it was really enjoyable. It was a fundraiser. The location was a small community park so I am assuming they had to get a permit that covered the cost of residual clean-up & crowd control. It was an annual event so many of the contestants had fun thematic booths. The judging was all by the public. You paid for a book of coupons to taste. Each taste was a small paper cup and spoon. There was a voting booth where you were allowed to cast one vote for every book of coupons. There was lots of whooping and hollering and attempting to draw crowds to your booth. The deadline for judging was announced every so often and then the winners (just 1, 2, 3) were given trophies. It was not an authentic "contest" with skilled judges, but it was really fun. The winners were in fact in my top 3. Because of the community spirit of it, I don't think there was an issue of stuffing the ballot box. They also had hourly drawings with chili related prizes.

#4 Fat Guy

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Posted 12 June 2007 - 02:13 PM

The block association on the block where I grew up has held competitions of this nature, albeit with desserts. It's nice to have several categories and prizes so there can be lots of winners. Also, it's possible to have a set of winners chosen by the judges and, if everybody gets to taste, a set of winners chosen by the public (or, there can be specific category awards from the judges and an overall most-popular award from the public). One thing to watch out for: one year on the block the same person won in EVERY category. He was just a much better baker than anybody else, so much so that it was obvious to all. So, a one-award-per-person rule can also make sense for a fun, community event. Oh, and if there are any professional cooks competing, it's probably smart to put them in a separate category.

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#5 Susan C.

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Posted 16 June 2007 - 09:09 PM

I have only been to one and it was really enjoyable. It was a fundraiser. The location was a small community park so I am assuming they had to get a permit that covered the cost of residual clean-up & crowd control. It was an annual event so many of the contestants had fun thematic booths. The judging was all by the public. You paid for a book of coupons to taste. Each taste was a small paper cup and spoon. There was a voting booth where you were allowed to cast one vote for every book of coupons. There was lots of whooping and hollering and attempting to draw crowds to your booth. The deadline for judging was announced every so often and then the winners (just 1, 2, 3) were given trophies. It was not an authentic "contest" with skilled judges, but it was really fun. The winners were in fact in my top 3. Because of the community spirit of it, I don't think there was an issue of stuffing the ballot box. They also had hourly drawings with chili related prizes.

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Heidih, Thank you for your reply. This chili cook-off is a fund-raiser for our little museum here in Libby, Montana. I need more information on the public tasting and voting, which we call 'the people's choice award' Were the contestents issued a number and did the number correspond with a numbered coupon. How many coupons in a book and what was the cost.
Would it work to use the little cups like salad dressing is served in (souffle cups) and no spoon to cut down on waste? Just squeeze the contents into your mouth? How was the voting booth set up? Did you turn the complete book in at the voting booth? We will also have judged entries and I need help setting up the judging criterion. Susan C.

#6 Susan C.

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Posted 16 June 2007 - 09:32 PM

Chris, off the top of my head.  How is this being advertised, and what are the critera (other than the cooker sees it as being chili)?  What are the facilities like? What are the prize(s)?  Is there anything wrong with having sevearl prices -- like the chili that the die hard hot fans like the best?  The chili the kids like the best?  The chili that the churchwives like the best?

I think if this is a homespun contest without many rules, that there should perhaps be several categories of winners...

After all, my preferred bowl o chili is not necessarily what all would prefer...

View Post

Hello snowangel, This chili cook-off is a fund raiser for our little museum in Libby, Montana. We have put up posters, ads in 3 newspapers and a radio spot.
and on all the reader boards in town. We have 3 categories, chili with meat, no beans; chili with beans, with or without meat and the 'people's choice award'. The cook-off will take place on the Museum grounds (outside). We will be giving first, second and third place cash awards, except for the 'people's choice award'. That will be a custom designed apron. The reasoning behind this... the winner of this may well have already won a cash prize. We will have 5 judges. I don't know what the judging score card should look like or how to efficiently handle the public voting on their favorite chili. Any help you can give will be much appreciated. Susan C.

#7 heidih

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Posted 16 June 2007 - 09:38 PM

Heidih, Thank you for your reply. This chili cook-off is a fund-raiser for our little museum here in Libby, Montana. I need more information on the public tasting and voting, which we call 'the people's choice award' Were the contestents issued a number and did the number correspond with a numbered coupon. How many coupons in a book and what was the cost.
Would it work to use the little cups like salad dressing is served in (souffle cups) and no spoon to cut down on waste? Just squeeze the contents into your mouth? How was the voting booth set up? Did you turn the complete book in at the voting booth? We will also have judged entries and I need help setting up the judging criterion. Susan C.

Susan- I have been wracking my feeble aging brain ever since I wrote the post to try to remember more details. Regarding service of the tastings, those small cups are o.k. if they are sturdy enough, remembering the chili is coming out of a hot hot pot. The small styrofoam cups they use for sauces in take-away places would be great. Restaurant supply places have them for super cheap. A spoon was definately needed, but just a tasting spoon like they give you to sample ice cream (maybe 1/4 tsp, kinda flat and short). This is one of those times where if you can't find it in Libby, someone on egullet can most likely get it to you. The coupon books were not elaborate because it was low budget. They were generic for all sales. There was a very simple score keeping sheet with your booklet so you could record how you liked that booth. When your booklet was empty you would simply go to a judging table and turn in your empty coupon book and be allowed to check off your fave contestant on a voting sheet. Again, because it was a fundraiser, there was very little second guessing of fairness. Just lots of fun. As for the round of actual judging, I'll defer to any chili expert- I only know what I like. Good luck!

#8 Susan C.

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Posted 16 June 2007 - 09:43 PM

The block association on the block where I grew up has held competitions of this nature, albeit with desserts. It's nice to have several categories and prizes so there can be lots of winners. Also, it's possible to have a set of winners chosen by the judges and, if everybody gets to taste, a set of winners chosen by the public (or, there can be specific category awards from the judges and an overall most-popular award from the public). One thing to watch out for: one year on the block the same person won in EVERY category. He was just a much better baker than anybody else, so much so that it was obvious to all. So, a one-award-per-person rule can also make sense for a fun, community event. Oh, and if there are any professional cooks competing, it's probably smart to put them in a separate category.

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Fat Guy,Thanks for the advise about one-award-per-person and professional cooks.
Susan C.

#9 johnnyd

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 02:35 PM

Susan,

When I worked in Development at our local community radio station we put on an Annual Mardi Gras Cooking Competition (pics from 2006) involving about a dozen restaurants.


I remember a few key things that might help you.

- Use small (4oz?) soup containers, they have double walls and as mentioned, guard the heat (for example, see my pics). Probably won't need lids.

- Use plastic spoons, the flat ice cream type won't hold the chili ingredients

- Have plenty of garbage cans available and assign someone to keep an eye on them - they fill up fast.

- I assume there is a beverage option. Have free water available.

- Our ballot had five lines under a list of contestants and the competition logo. Participants listed their five faves in order of merit which equaled number of points to add to their tally. A couple boxes of tiny golf-scorecard pencils were around. People would check off or circle contestants visited until they were all done or too full to go on. Five points were awarded to each first-line, and so on. Have someone build a ballot in MS Word and print them at home on some cool paper. We fit two ballots on an 8,1/2x11

- Your promotional presence looks good. We contacted restaurants 6 weeks out with a deadline of two weeks before as a cut-off, but someone comes in late anyway - welcome them. Radio spots for a month and ads in all local rags for two weeks prior to day-of-show. See if you can trade the media-buys with an ad in the Museum brochure. You'll notice I got a local TV crew to cover the event - it's not hard: just ask!

- Someone will bag out for some reason at gametime, guaranteed. Prepare for this inevitability and shrug it off, no hard feelings. Besides, they'll do doubletime next year.


The pics above are from the 11th year. We started it as a Mardi Gras party for staff and of course somebody had to bring food! It's evolved quite a bit. We started getting technical and went for a Gumbo Category and a Jambalaya category but one year only two out of twelve rests went with the gumbo so we lumped it all together as "New Orleans Cuisine" - simpler that way. We also found if you develop multi-media accessories or decoration schemes in addition to the food, it becomes more memorable (maybe next year!)

I admit I got too wrapped up in making sure everything went off well and everybody was happy, an impossible task. I realized this when the steamtables brought by the restaurants to keep food hot, short-circuited our half of the USM Student Center. Not once... not twice... yes, three times. The bottom line is that you - along with everyone else - are here to have fun and check out some kick-ass chili.
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#10 Susan C.

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 03:07 PM

johnnyd, Thank you for all the info. It comes at good time, especially all the wonderful pictures of a very successful competition! We are at a 'doubting point' wondering if we can pull this off and will the town participate. Your post has been a real boost for us. Susan C.

#11 johnnyd

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Posted 19 June 2007 - 03:12 PM

johnnyd,  Thank you for all the info.  It comes at good time, especially all the wonderful pictures of a very successful competition!  We are at a 'doubting point' wondering if we can pull this off and will the town participate.  Your post has been a real boost for us.  Susan C.

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It's my pleasure, Susan. Feel free to ask if you have any other concerns - I will try to help where I can. If I think of anything else I'll post here. You can do this!
"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II
Portland Food Map.com