I spent Sunday as a judge for the Good Food Awards in San Francisco. I arrived at the venue, a multi-use office/meeting space in the Mission, at 9am after weaving my way though the informal flea market set up on the sidewalks outside. Following some introductory remarks, we got down to work. I was a cheese judge. And while I didn’t have the expertise of most of the other judges, I like to think my cheese knowledge is fairly good. And happily I was paired with a couple of cheese insiders: Ken Miller, co-owner of Pastoral Artisan Cheese in Chicago, and long-time food educator Lynne Devereux (see photo above). We confronted (one cheese at a time) three flights of 8-12 cheeses each, one of fresh cheeses and two of “semi-soft” (though that category included some cheeses surely firmer than the description suggests), all strictly anonymous. We were asked to evaluate aroma, appearance, mouthfeel/texture, and of course flavor. Most were, as you’d expect, very good; an occasional entry was too salty or had an unpleasant bitterness; while some were exactly what you would expect from the appearance (a fresh goat, an Emmenthal-style cheese) and others instead really exciting. After a light lunch (thankfully of various salads and grains), we were re-organized into different larger groups and re-evaluated the top vote getters of the morning round, another dozen cheeses to try (with some repeats). Alas, the winners will only be announced in January so we never got to know what we had tried, where they were from, and so on; and I do wonder whether my food memory will be adequate to recall my favorites by then. While we were trying cheeses, others were evaluating a dozen or so other categories: pickles, charcuterie, pantry, oils, elixirs, coffee, beer, spirits, confectionary and so on. The day ended with a party at The Perennial, a suitably sustainability–minded bistro near Civic Center where we got to try many of the entries (though I’d had enough cheese by then and maybe for the next few days).
So a good day spent in the world of high-quality artisanal foods. Meanwhile I am reading the NYT article on the marketing of Nestle processed foods in Brazil and the dramatic increase there of obesity and diabetes over the past decade or so. Are these really two parts of the same food world? The Good Food Awards inevitably suffers from what we might call the Slow Food paradox: how do you promote sustainable practices and small producers without succumbing to some sort of elitism? Or combat uniformity in the food system in the context of global poverty? Obviously problems of this sort – global poverty, access to real food – are bigger than the Good Food Awards, but I’d like to think that promoting one can contribute in a small way to combatting the other.
The final pictures show me with Good Food Awards director Sarah Weiner, with “gangsta gardener” Ron Finley (my eyes closed alas) and with Gabriela Camara and her son Lucas. I’m hoping to organize a showing at IU this year of “Can You Dig This,” a film about Finley’s gardening projects in South-Central LA. And Gabriela is chef and owner of Cala, the fabulous restaurant (149 Fell St.) where I ate Saturday evening. If you are in SF, don’t miss it (Lucas had found some sort of goo to stick on his chin). Both Ron (pickles) and Gabriela (fish) were also judges.