Day in the Life of a Gourmet Judge


I thought it was one of those “you won the lottery” pranks but the request was real, AmericasMart Atlanta wanted a judge for The Atlanta Gourmet Market, and they wanted me for the job. They asked if my calendar was free that day. What a strange question, of course it would be free that day.

I was a bit nervous about the assignment, five hours on two gourmet floors, tasting dressings, rubs, candy, snacks, soups and condiments. Was I up to the task?

Upon arrival I met Todd Mussman from Muss and Turner’s We were given 20 pages of entries, and we stared walking the floors with Bri, our guide from AmericasMart. In an oddly stoic gesture, I did not eat breakfast to save room for all the delectables. What a misguided decision that was. I immediately ate too much toffee at our first stop. Pecans, sugar, nuts and butter, sounds like breakfast food to me. Toffee to Go’s Dark Chocolate Pecan Toffee melted in my mouth and made me smile. This day was starting off just as I had hoped.

At Strawberry Patch, we snacked on Vidalia® Onion Cheese Grits Bits. Diane Justice makes these cheese bits with real Vidalia® onions, and you can taste their gentle sweetness. After tasting the other entries, we quickly decided that these grits bits were worthy of a prize.

With a bit of trepidation, we approached Mother Shucker and we had a pleasant surprise at her booth. Old Mother Shucker is not at all old ,and she has a comedic presence that just makes you want to stay and listen. Lucky for us, her sense of humor was matched by her delicious original cocktail sauce and I have been dreaming about making a Bloody Mary with her mix ever since. This cocktail sauce is worth the trip to Columbia, S.C., and back.

After enjoying Miss Jenny’s Habanero Bread and Butter Pickles, Raven’s Nest Specialties’ Original Raspberry Jalapeno Jam and Sugar Marsh Cottage’s Bittersweet Chocolate Fleur de Sel Toffee Bits, and all of the other specialty foods, I think I ended the day having completed the food pyramid!  Delicious and exciting food, what more could a food judge ask for?

(Elisa Gambino is the owner of Via Elisa Pasta Sauces. Her sauces can be found in Whole Foods Markets throughout the southeast and Florida.)

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