Chef Margot McCormack, food writer Kay West, organic farmer Jeff Delvin, R.B. Quinn, and I judged the Nashville Tomato Arts Festival recipe contest sponsored by the Nashville Farmers’ Market on the blistering hot Saturday afternoon of August 9. Check out the winning recipes.
We sat on Margot’s quiet patio studying the more than a dozen very interesting tomato dips and relishes submitted just steps away from the thousands of folks roaming around Five Points. Writer/blogger Lesley Lassiter of the Nashville Scene submitted an entry and wrote up a little story about the contest and the three top winning recipes. Her recipe didn’t win this year and she admits to the frustration of entering and trying to attract the judges’ attention. However, she had a strong idea and it’s fun to read her blog post about the thought process that became her entry. You can read all about Melissa Corbin’s entry, too.
Winning a recipe contest is not easy, but I think I can help. After nearly thirty years of organizing or judging recipe contests (like the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cheese Cake Contest; contests featuring Campbell’s Soup, Pace Picante Sauce, Pillsbury pie crust, Hidden Valley Ranch, SPAM, Uncle Ben’s Rice and Kraft Marshmallow Creme; Jack Daniel’s barbecue sauce and barbecue competitions; the Martha White/Lodge Cornbread Festival Cook-off and years at the Tennessee State fair), I humbly offer a few tips for recipe competitors. By the way, the theme for the 2015 Tomato Arts Festival recipe contest is tomato salads which sounds really fun. I hope these tips help.
1. Make the theme ingredient of the contest shine. In this case make fresh tomatoes the starring ingredient, not just one of the chorus. We saw plenty of entries where the tomatoes seemed lost in a sea of competing components. Why were so few of the entries garnished with beautiful fresh Tennessee tomatoes?
2. Keep it simple. The point of any recipe contest is publicity and to show the world the beautiful versatility of a product (tomatoes). The Farmers’ Market wants recipes that showcase Tennessee tomatoes and ones that folks will really make at home. The best winning recipes are easy, simple, and without too many unnecessary ingredients. In fact, most recipes can be streamlined. Don’t over-do your seasonings and the fatty ingredients; you don’t really need five different cheeses in one dip.
3. Act like you care. Presentation (i.e, the first impression) counts in a big way. It doesn’t have to be fussy, just thoughtful. The trend of serving in individual 1/2 pint mason jars made a nice appearance this year. We were also impressed that the winner submitted her layered tomato crab dip chilled in a bowl of ice because it was really hot. And be sure all the components of your recipe work together. The second place winner made lasagna noodle crackers for her warm tomato cheese dip which really caught our attention. Another was submitted with burnt crackers…ouch.
4. Go with an understandable theme. A simple riff on a classic is often a winner. Brainstorm easy additions to your favorite recipes. Consider trends. Maybe pork belly is finally on it’s way out. What seems fresh and new? A cute title helps, too, but don’t get carried away.
5. Ask yourself “would I make this recipe again?” The answer should be yes or you’re wasting your time. Make sure your recipe is delicious and that you want another bite. Interesting isn’t good enough. Think how you feel when you find a recipe you’d like to try.
6. Judges are human. I admit to putting together some crappy judging panels in the past that picked winners I just couldn’t believe. That happens too. It’s not all you. Just do the best you can.
Hmmm….tomato salads for next year. I’m thinking that you really need to consider color. Make your Tennessee tomato salad gorgeous.
Here are a few of our favorites that might get your wheels turning:
Pico Slaw–with more tomato and less slaw.
Pico de Gallo Gelee–I just love this.
Overripe Tomato Vinaigrette–Great idea for that rotting tomato on the counter.
Lima Bean Tomato Tabouli–Use Tennessee limas and lots of beautiful yellow tomatoes.