TV makes food-judging look sexy, glamorous, and deadly serious – is it in reality? My arse it is! In this case the reality was an entertaining fiasco. After starting thirty minutes late – admittedly on time by Italian standards – the twelve judges, among them a blogger, an Italian food importer, a BBC food reporter, the head chef of L’Anima and a baby, got to work on judging the winner of the London Gelato Festival 2016.
No long table with a starched white tablecloth for us; instead we were seated on plastic chairs arranged all higgledy-piggledy in the demonstration stand in Old Spitalfield Market. They numbered so many that they butted up against each other, leaving one’s legs crushed and twisted into all sorts of positions.
Most of the judges, if not all of us, had had no real information about the competition beforehand and how things worked. When asked about it, clearly the team behind the event were unsure too. Eventually we at least discovered that, while some ten flavours were available for the public to try, only four were competing and thus to be judged by us.
But judged by what criteria you ask? Good question is my response; so pertinent a question is it, that we too asked exactly that. In response we were – finally – handed an A4 piece of paper, though not any ordinary piece of paper. The professionally created score cards had been left behind so instead we received a photocopied scrawled and wonky hand drawn table to complete. Even then they didn’t manage to make enough photocopies first time round, so a second batch was made and, as that too didn’t go far enough, I shared a sheet with Elizabeth of Mayfair Curated fame.
There was just one appropriate reaction upon reading the judging criteria – slack-jawed bemusement. How else are you meant to react when the criteria are best summed up by the one entitled “Perception of Coldness”, or something similarly worded? Clearly I wasn’t the only person left stunned, amused and at a loss as to what some of the criteria actually meant or how they could be judged. They didn’t even have enough pens, so we were left using Elizabeth’s day-glow pink gel pen. The absurdity of such a pen for such a job made me laugh – in a way it fit perfectly with the chaos.
The demonstration stand was set up opposite the glass-sided gelato factory lorry that the festival had made specifically. But what had been forgotten was that the factory incorporated a huge extractor fan blasting out in the direction of the demonstration stand. The noise was so deafening it drowned out anyone speaking to us, even when they used a microphone. Eventually they resorted to shouting through a translator.
In the end, following much ear straining and asking each other what was said, it descended into Elizabeth and I sitting chatting away and laughing while we waited to be handed the next sample to apply our nuanced and ‘highly expert’ knowledge to.
Flavour-wise the gelato was somewhat hit and miss; well mostly miss. I saw one judge had given one entry just 2 out of 10 for flavour. It’s not to say they weren’t all interesting ideas and combinations; they were. It’s more that most didn’t really come off. White chocolate with bergamot seemed a good idea but tasted just of creamy vanilla with very little bergamot flavour coming from the lime green coloured syrup over it – it looked like something left by Slimer from Ghostbusters.
The cappuccino and fig was a winner, even if the frozen fig seeds felt like crunching on dried semolina, but the most interesting flavour combination was the two cheeses with quince and apple. Unfortunately, this too didn’t quite work, and was more like a cheese frozen yoghurt with overly sweet quince. The final offering was dark chocolate, caramel and salted peanuts which, unsurprisingly, tasted like salted caramel and chocolate.
With the exception of the cappuccino and fig combination, they were all very sweet and I was left feeling a little sick. After accumulation of all the votes, the dark chocolate, caramel and peanuts came first, followed by the cappuccino and fig, and I can’t say I’m surprised given they are flavours of the moment (and, naturally, because the other two were somewhat ‘out there’).
So how would I sum up my first experience judging gelato? Simple: a shambolically good time.
For info on the London Gelato Festival click here.