This month I attended the first World Food Championships at Bally’s Casino in Las Vegas. The WFC was hosted by “Man vs. Food” star Adam Richman and consisted of three days of world championship contests for Best Recipe, Best Sandwich, Best Side dish, Best Burger, Best Chef, Best Chili and, my favorite, Best BBQ.
On the third and final day, all the winners of each category squared off at the “Final Table” for the overall World Food Champion.
To qualify, teams had to be invited by WFC after winning contests throughout the year. In just the BBQ contest alone, there were 81 teams from 41 states, along with teams from Canada, Denmark and Australia.
To lure those people from everywhere, a purse of $50,000 was offered for each category. In addition, the Final Table competition added another $75,000, with the winner taking home $50,000.
In April, Ramona resident Todd Rakos earned an invitation to the WFC by having the first place Rib entry at the Stagecoach Music Festival BBQ Competition in Indio. Todd invited my wife Kitty and me to complete his three-person team, so not only did we get to go, but we even got to compete!
As soon as Todd and I checked in and were shown our 20’x40’ spot, I started laughing. You see, at most BBQ contests we compete in, we are allowed to sell samples to the public. This helps recoup some of the meat costs and entry fees on the days when you don’t win any cash prizes. It also allows the public that attends to do what they came for—eat BBQ!
At most of those events, we seem to get tucked somewhere way in the back. By the time people find us, they are either out of money or full.
At the WFC, we were not allowed to sell samples and, of course, they put us directly in front of the main entrance. We were so close and up front that we were even mentioned in the local newspaper! The next thing that was different was the turn-in times. Normally, we turn in all four meat entries at half hour intervals, beginning at noon and ending at 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
This contest was spread over two days, with the Pork entry turned in at 4 p.m. on Friday and our BBQ Sauce entry turned in right after that at 4:30. Then on Saturday, we turned in Pork Ribs at 4 p.m. and Beef Brisket at 4:30 p.m. I only make mention of this because those are pretty late in the day, and with not being able to sell to the public, it made for some long days sitting around waiting for two things to cook!
Fortunately, on Saturday we were able to walk around and watch some of the other contests. The Chili cooks were right next to the BBQ section, so we joined in on the People’s Choice Contest and tried a lot of great chilies. We made some new chili friends with the people who were set up next to us and were thrilled when two of them made the top 10.
We also watched a few rounds of the World Chef Contest. These were just like watching the chef contests on TV, but here they had three hours to prepare their meal and present it to a panel of judges. Even the contestants thought that was too long.
We showed up towards the end of the round, so it was quite fun to watch. They let us get right up behind the judges when they were eating, so I kept offering to take a few bites and add my 2 cents, but they never let me.
On Saturday night, they brought all the Chili and BBQ teams together at the awards pavilion. Before the awards began, we got to watch the World Chef Final, which pitted a San Diego chef from the Lodge at Torrey Pines against Travis Brust, a chef from the Chesapeake Bay area. The San Diego chef did great, according to the judges, but not great enough to win the $10,000 first place prize and move on to Sunday’s Final Table.
After that contest, they announced the top five chili teams in each of their three entries and then announced the top 10 teams overall, but not in order. From there, they all went out to Las Vegas Boulevard where the champions were announced in front of a big audience.
After Chili, they did the same for BBQ. I quickly made sure that I had a clear path to the stage and also picked a few candidates to take our picture while we were up there. When we did not get called in the top five for sauce, I shrugged that off. We don’t usually do Sauce contests and had no idea what they were looking for.
When we did not get called for the top 5 in Ribs, I was surprised. I thought the ribs were spot on. When we didn’t get called for Pork or Brisket, I quickly assumed that we had taken sixth in all four categories and would surely make the top 10. Wrong!
On a bright note, there were 14 teams who ended up worse than us. It definitely would have been a great weekend to sell samples.
Overall we had a great time. It was a fun event that will only get better in the years to come. If you want to fit a lot of food contests into one weekend, check it out next year. You can find info on all the winners and more at worldfoodchampionships.com.
Eddie Brisendine, a Ramona resident and Ramona High School Class of 1982 graduate, is a connoisseur of food and wine.