VAIL - Judging food is a little like reviewing drive-in movies. You might not know about movies, but you know what you like.
This year's Taste of Vail's Lamb Cookoff was 22 restaurants entered and the judges spend five minutes sampling each entry. In between the judges might have enjoyed the occasional sip of wine, strictly as a palate cleanser. Only a sip, we promise.
The favorite wine was the Chateau Fouquette. If you're faking a French accent, Fouquette sounds sort of like one of George Carlin's Seven Words You Can't Say on Television, although it isn't.
The judges included had a regular chef and professor from a culinary school, and all kinds of professional restaurateurs. The chef/professor was a pretty regular guy who owns a motorcycle and will be inducted into the Dad Hall of Fame because he bought his 15 year old kid a 1975 Chevy Camaro. Or maybe he bought it for himself and the kid is deluding himself into thinking he gets to drive it.
The Taste of Vail folks had it squared away. Presentation counts (1-5), but not as much as creativity (1-10). It is food, after all, and you eat it so taste counts most (1-15).
Cooking is art, mostly, and it's graded on a curve. Moving parts get extra credit, like the Viet Dip Lamb Bahn Mi and Pho, which came with a dipping sauce that was poured for us.
The charred Colorado leg of lamb came with a leffe brune, a beer, so they got some extra credit.
A couple dishes came with quail eggs, which, we learned, are hard to get and harder to peel. So they get extra credit, too.
One contestant spelled tzatzki wrong (they spelled it "tsiki"), but they made it correctly and since this is art and not science, grammar and spelling don't count, at least not for most of the judges.
A few years ago, some swell-meaning but terribly misguided contestant put apples and cinnamon in their tzatzki sauce. None of the judges actually spit it out, but the entry that followed it did very well. It's like Heidi Klum following Phyllis Diller in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.
Some people insist they like cinnamon in their tzatzki. These are vegans, and you should duct tape them to a chair an irritate them by swapping grilling recipes with your carnivore buddies.
And speaking of people who claim to love the Baby Jesus, lamb and America but might not so much, a few chefs seemed to think that the less a lamb dish tastes like lamb, the better. They couldn't be more wrong if they'd entered a poodle in a tractor pull, or a lamb cookoff.
If you don't want your lamb to taste like lamb, order a takeout cheese pizza.
Case in point. The judges repeatedly said, "I like it. It tastes like lamb."
We learned all kinds of stuff. "Murtabak" is a stuffed/filled pancake. We had to Google it, so if you like lamb and can Google you have what it takes to be a lamb cookoff judge.
Actually, all the judges were professional restaurateurs, including the chef/professor.
We also spent a few minutes trying to figure out which dish went with which restaurant. That's like doing an NCAA men's basketball bracket and having Harvard blow it up in the first round. Like my buddy Scott says, "First Harvard ruins the country and now they've ruined my bracket!" But this isn't about basketball, it's about lamb, and none of the lamb dishes tasted anything like a basketball.
The American Lamb Board provided the lamb, so we know everyone was working with superior natural resources.
In the end, Kevin Clair and Sweet Basil (first), LaTour (second) and Bold (third) won this year's lamb cookoff because they created classic dishes prepared in traditional methods with accoutrements that didn't overpower but accentuated.
Their lamb tasted like it was supposed to - lamb prepared to perfection.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.