My Day As A Judge

Helping A Good Cause

As you might have noticed (or not), I haven't blogged about anything this year. Well, that's not entirely true, for I have posted some thoughts on my "mini-blog" on Tumblr, along with a few tweets. Part of the reason for my absence is my schedule, which this year has been very hectic. Although my spare time is scarce, I couldn't resist the call to be a judge at a hot wings contest. And especially if the contest was a benefit for the black... errr, "jubilee" Catholic schools of Memphis. As an alum of two parochial schools, I felt it was my way of giving back to the institutions that helped mold me into the person I am today.
The contest was the centerpiece of the Wings of Jubilee Hot Wing Festival, which took place on September 9, 2017 at the campus of Memphis Catholic High and Middle School, my high school alma mater. The festival is similar to others in that in addition to the hot wing teams, other attendees were either engaged in various recreational activities or checking out the live music acts. At the last festival, I felt awkward when I encountered one of my forgotten former classmates despite them knowing who I am (I was never social and a bit of a wallflower in school). This time, I was there for a purpose, so I headed directly to the judges' tent to get my instructions. Initially I was nervous, but after meeting some of the other judges (including fellow blogger Seth of Best Memphis Burger) who explained the formula for judging, I felt confident that I could do a good job of it. Speaking of the formula, the judging was "blind" in the sense that the competitors were assigned random numbers in order to prevent bias. I like that because the last thing a fundraising hot wing contest needs is a bunch of douchebags tilting the scales toward certain teams that they want to curry favor with. After all, the goal is for everyone to have a good time while helping a great cause, and if a few teams can take home a trophy and cash, then that's extra gravy (or wing sauce) for them.
Among the wings that I judged, there was a lot of variety in terms of wing sauce (or lack of it), cooking technique and presentation. The criteria used to judge the wings were appearance, taste, and texture. The categories were scored on a scale 1 to 10 which could lead to a top score of thirty for a really good team. For the most part, all the teams put in good efforts although some wings were a lot better than others. While I won't talk about every wing that I tasted, there were a few exceptional wings that really impressed me. The best among them was the hot wing that I posted in this post, a wing that could hold its own with some of the best wing joints in town. As you can see in the picture above, the chicken wing is breaded and that might not conform to the "naked" wing that most are accustomed to, but I had no problems with it (I'm not a purist about stuff like that). The breading was doused with enough sauce to make it soggy but not too messy, so its "appearance" points didn't take a hit with me. The taste was sweet and spicy, sorta like (according to one of my fellow judges) General Tso's Chicken in a good way. Again, I wouldn't say it was a genuine Buffalo wing, but from a creative standpoint it was outstanding. To whomever made those wings, I tip my hat to you for doing an awesome job and regardless of your standing in the festival, I wish you much success in future contests or other endeavors related to hot wings.
As for the winners, I was a little surprised at the results, given the participants. In third place, the winners were Central BBQ, purveyors of some of the best barbecue in Memphis. When I saw that, the first thought I had was "here we go again" with the same old barbecue/cooking teams winning everything. Even with blind judging, I assumed the same teams that I see at other contests would dominate the "amateur" competitors who don't compete regularly throughout the year. However, when the Jubilee officials announced the second place winner, the team taking it wasn't who I expected. The runner-up winner was an East European team (I believe they were from Poland) with a foreign name that simply meant "Hot Wings." The champions of the event were a team sponsored by a local Northwestern Mutual insurance agency, whose wings must have been outstanding if they beat out teams like Central BBQ and 901Q, a frequent competitor in many cooking contests. I'm not sure if the wings I raved about earlier were made by the Northwestern Mutual team, but if enough of my fellow judges felt the team was worthy, then it was the best. I want to extend my congratulations to them and I hope to see them again at the festival next year.
Overall, my first judging experience was a lot of fun and I look forward to other opportunities to do it again. I want to thank Angela Justice Fox for organizing the event (that included inviting me to judge) and for all the work she does as a fundraiser for Memphis' Catholic schools. With the rise of charter schools and other alternatives (such as families fleeing to the suburbs) for getting an education, attracting kids into the parochial system is getting harder than its ever been (by the way, why are most charter schools in jubilee... errr, "urban" neighborhoods). My hope is that the Catholic school tradition lives on, leaving a legacy for children yearning for a quality education that will benefit them throughout life.


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