Last week’s Montclair Food & Wine Festival’s BBQ, Bourbon & Biergarten event, held at the Montclair Art Museum, included a memorable and top-notch selection of dozens of meal samples, craft brews, and bourbon. An additional layer of the evening involved a two-part competition: people’s choice and judges’ choice. Veronique Deblois, a frequent contributor to Jersey Bites and also blogger at her own Food and Wine Chickie, sat on the three-person panel of evaluators. When I was invited to attend the event, I knew right away that I wanted to get an up-close-and-personal education about the judging process. Deblois is a seasoned food judge (see what I did there?), and she took the time to offer true insight into her evening of sampling and scoring. And sampling some more.
JERSEY BITES: How many items did you try?
VERONIQUE DEBLOIS: We judged around 40 entries. Small bites was key!
Were there any participating restaurants that you haven’t been to before?
I hadn’t been to several restaurants that ended up serving some of my favorite dishes, like Halcyon, with those buttery, garlicky grilled oysters (pictured at top), which ended up taking first place from the judges and the people’s vote. That was a really smart thing to serve, although that guy shucking several hundred oysters was likely exhausted at the end of the night.
What else did you enjoy seeing—and tasting?
I was glad to see the Wood Pit bringing brisket and a suckling pig to the event. Their family sauce was stellar and screamed Carolina BBQ. I was also excited to see Essex Junction go big with a whole hog and loved their tacos with moist pulled pork topped with a perfect crackling. Two delicious, yet a bit unexpected, dishes were the ribs with an Italian spin from Spuntino, and the outstanding spicy kimchi from Escape that smartly topped a piece of perfectly tender pork belly on homemade bread.
What did you think of the general setup of the event?
It was pretty perfect: tables aligned to make it easy to walk around, even with 600 guests in attendance, a great band, easy-to-access bathrooms in the museum, tents in case of rain, which it did. And beer tables at each end of the event space. It was well done!
How did judging work?
We were three judges at a table. We each had entry forms where we entered our thoughts on four categories: appearance, aroma, appearance and taste from 1, being the lowest rating, to 5, being the highest. Runners brought each dish to the judging table and each was rated in this format. At the end of the judging session, all the points were tallied up to determine a winner.
Do you feel super full afterward?
Honestly, I took extra small bites so in the long run, I likely ate less than guests who ate full portions of half the dishes.
Any final thoughts on the evening?
It was a fabulous charity-driven event that I know took many months of planning and was one of the best outdoor events I’ve attended…and I go to many!