Good Food Awards Tap Local Judges for National Contest

by Sarah Henry on January 13, 2012 · 19 comments

in bay citizen,berkeley bites,food businesses,food events

Good Food Awards Berkeley-based judges: Dafna Kory (photo: Jeffery Kong); Michael Pollan (James Collier) and June Taylor (Leigh Connors)

Berkeley’s food mavens will likely be out in force tonight at the Good Food Awards at San Francisco’s Ferry Building and many of the judges for this annual event — sponsored by Seedling Projects and now in its second year — hail from this city’s gourmand ranks. But only one Berkeley name may find a place on the winners’ podium.

The concept behind this socially and ethically responsible food contest is to highlight “best in show” from five regions of the country in various edible categories. This year, prizes will go to makers of beer, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, coffee, pickles, preserves, and — a new area — spirits.

At last year’s soirée — with a keynote address by restaurateur and sustainable food champion Alice Watersthree Berkeley winners emerged in the beer, charcuterie, and pickles categories.

This year, only one Berkeley product is a finalist out of 926 entries from 46 states — a repeat appearance for Café Rouge, which is in contention for a prize for its duck paté.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for the charcuterie we’ve produced for 15 years,” said Café  Rouge chef Rick DeBeaord. “We’re proud of our products; it feels good to be acknowledged by other food professionals for our work.”

But back to the arbiters of taste: more than a dozen judges from this side of the Bay served as blind tasters, and the list reads like a “who’s who” of Berkeley food legends and rising stars. A judge with Berkeley connections tasted in every category except coffee, and some of the adjudicator pairings make for interesting speculation about how things went down at judging time, which took place in October.

In one corner of a crowded food hub, author and Cal professor Michael Pollan shared a brew or two with Chez Panisse Café chef Cal Peternell. In another, chocolate aficionados Alice Medrich and John Scharffenberger compared cacao notes, and in yet another veterans such as Waters and preserver June Taylor sat at a table with up-and-comers like jammer Dafna Kory and chef Samin Nosrat. Also in the judging mix this time: The Local Butcher Shop‘s Aaron Rocchino, Sunny Side Café chef Aaron French, and Acme Bar owner Jennifer Seidman.

So what do judges look for? Each category has its own unique criteria, of course, but in general judges score on flavor, aroma, texture, appearance, and balance. “I think a really good product stands out easily,” said Dafna Kory, of INNA jam, who was a member of the preserves committee and judged the pickles category.

No argument from Aaron French there, who weighed in on cheese wheels. “We judged about 20 qualities for each cheese on both positive and negative scales.  The process was designed to be both comprehensive and tough,” said French. “Most cheeses were OK to good. Cheese making in particular is a tough craft, but there were a few exceptional ones that deserved to win an award.”

What does a winner label on a product mean for consumers? “Buying a food product off the shelf is a bit of a gamble. Unless you’ve tasted the product before, you don’t know whether you’ll like it or not,” said Kory.  “A Good Food Award winner label makes it clear that lots of other people who take taste seriously like this product. So chances are, you’ll probably like it too.” It also means the product has met strict sustainability criteria.

The impact of the label bling attached to a Good Food Award win is hard to measure. Meat man DeBeaord said that last year’s award for Café Rouge’s smoked beef tongue triggered a surge of interest in the product and the accompanying label in the first couple of months after the sticker showed up at the meat counter. But that product — like the duck paté — has always done well for Café Rouge.

At work in Berkeley's Cultured Pickle Shop which won a Good Food Award last year. Photo: courtesy Cultured

Similarly, over at Berkeley’s Cultured Alex Hozven said she puts the award sticker on her jars when she remembers (and the label is featured on the company’s website), but it hasn’t made a significant difference in sales of her spicy oregano purple carrots. That may be because she sells out of pretty much everything she makes anyway, and wasn’t able to take advantage of distribution offers that came her way (some with hefty percentage takes attached) after winning the award.

Hozven submitted products again this year — including chili paste, mustard greens, and sauerkraut — but came up empty handed, which she takes in stride, since tasting, after all, is a pretty subjective matter.

While grateful for the recognition, Hozven is not convinced it’s the best way to honor food artisans — or to judge a product either. “It’s a bunch of people eating pickle after pickle out of little plastic cups,” she said. “That’s not an ideal way to taste anyone’s product.”

This post originally appeared on Berkeleyside and was republished on The Bay Citizen.

You might also like:

Good Food Awards Showcases Sustainable Food Artisans
Jam Maker Dafna Kory Turns Hobby Into Thriving Business
Fermented Food Fans: Meet the Folks From Cultured
June Taylor’s Artisan Way With Fruit
Alice Medrich’s Sweet Life

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Living Large in our Little House January 13, 2012 at 1:39 pm

I think it would be so hard to judge a food competition. I love Michael Pollan!


Sarah Henry January 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Why so, LLLH?


sheryl January 13, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Eating pickle after pickle out of little cups? Doesn’t seem to be a great way to judge a food contest…unless you’re a BIG fan of pickles.


Sarah Henry January 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm

well, sheryl, i’m sure there’s time for palate cleansing and, yes, peeps on the pickled foods panel are big fermented food fans.


NoPotCooking January 13, 2012 at 4:23 pm

An award label would probably make me look twice at an item, so I can see how it would be effective.


Sarah Henry January 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm

I think that for many shoppers, NPC, such award stickers would make them pay more attention to a product.


ruth pennebaker January 13, 2012 at 4:25 pm

Every time I read your work, I want to hotfoot it to Berkeley with an empty stomach and full wallet. Promise you’ll meet me if I do?


Sarah Henry January 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Of course! Come, come, and we’ll eat our way around the Bay Area.


Alisa Bowman January 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I’m always in awe of the food culture you have in your area. Sooooo envious!
Alisa Bowman´s last [type] ..What’s your most vexing problem?


Sarah Henry January 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm

How’s about you and Ruth finagle a visit and we all catch up over a good meal?


MyKidsEatSquid January 14, 2012 at 6:06 pm

Spicy oregano purple carrots–sounds like my kind of contest.

Methinks that the writer behind a substantial, popular blog that’s immersed in the Bay Area food scene should be a judge next time too;)


Sarah Henry January 15, 2012 at 8:21 am

Ha! You’re too kind, MKES. And trust me, this town has no shortage of expert tasters.


The Writer's [Inner] Journey January 15, 2012 at 8:39 am

I would love to hear a running commentary from the judges during a competition (in person) and taste what they taste alongside them. I think that would be a wonderful way to truly learn about food, quality, taste and have it explained by someone who truly understands all the elements.
The Writer’s [Inner] Journey´s last [type] ..The 5-Question [Author] Interview: Tod Goldberg


Sarah Henry January 16, 2012 at 9:03 am

Agreed, merr. I’d like to hear all the different points of view in one place.


Em (Wine and Butter) January 16, 2012 at 6:16 am

This post makes me miss the Bay Area – good thing we are returning in a couple of months. My Bay Area fave will always be Cheeseboard Pizza – less sophisticated, but just SO incredible… my husband is actually hoping to open a similar concept here in the UK!
Em (Wine and Butter)´s last [type] ..Baked Aubergine & Hummus


Sarah Henry January 16, 2012 at 9:06 am

Hi Em,
Nice to see you here and thanks for weighing in. Think of this as a tasty tease for your return to the Bay Area. And you and your husband might be interested in this post I wrote about his favorite local food haunt:


Alexandra January 17, 2012 at 7:34 am

I’m so envious!! Every time I read this blog I wish the rest of the country were like the Bay Area. This winter one of our restaurants is holding a Groundhog Day 7-course dinner that features local food, a challenge in New England.
Alexandra´s last [type] ..In Which I Share a Homework Assignment


Sarah Henry January 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Are you going, Sandy? If so, I look forward to a full report.


Jane Boursaw January 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm

What a great event. I’m so steeped in the entertainment world’s self-congratulatory awards season, it’s nice to hear about an awards event that actually means something (good food!).
Jane Boursaw´s last [type] ..Fun and Fooling Around at Friars Club Comedy Film Festival


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