Manatee County Fair culinary food and arts judging prelude to Thursday opening

vmannix@bradenton.comJanuary 14, 2014 

PALMETTO

The delicacy resembled a scrumptious mini-cheeseburger or slider and was thoughtfully scrutinized by Leslie Costides.

It was actually a brownie between two slices of vanilla cake for buns, candy beads for sesame seeds, shaved coconut colored green for lettuce, red icing for ketchup and yellow icing for cheese.

The Southeast High School language arts teacher didn't wolf it right down. Not yet anyway.

When you are judging the Culinary Food and Arts category of the Manatee County Fair, one must be deliberate and discerning, not devouring.

"You take one little taste," Costides said. "You're not eating the entire piece -- unless

it's absolutely fantastic and you can't help yourself."

It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

There were 20 judges on hand Saturday in the Harllee Building to pass judgment on 50 entries ranging from scrumptious cakes to spicy jams. They voted according to appearance, texture and flavor.

Winners receive ribbons, including one for best in show.

"What means the most to people who enter is the gratification you've done well," said Robin Bryant, event coordinator. "People want their entry to be graded on how it tastes and whether it truly works."

It's a task judges take seriously for the most part.

Dave Conklin was one.

"I view myself as the 'Joe Lunchbox' of this whole crowd, but I get more serious about it every year," said the irrigation company owner. "I'm more attuned with what something looks like, tastes like, its aromas and so forth. I like to think I've gotten better at it."

Nurse Nadine Garzone was another.

"I know what it's like to be judged in contests, and it's helped me to be a better judge," said the woman who hails from a family of restaurateurs.

The majority of Saturday's entries were desserts, which was fine by most of the panel.

"The desserts are alllllways good," said Phil Olson, Palmetto High School baseball coach.

Some judges were amused by the challenge.

Like Melissa Reynolds, a member of Weight Watchers.

Lined up along a nearby table were an array of temptations, including an amaretto almond pound cake, a peanut butter pound cake, an orange bundt cake and a red velvet cheesecake, to name just a few.

"It's hard coming here and trying to count those points," Reynolds said with a laugh. "I really like the desserts this year, too."

Hence, Bryant was giving a special dispensation Saturday to any judges whose New Year's resolutions included losing a few pounds.

"They're helping us out," she said. "Forget calories."

Vin Mannix, local columnist and one of the 20 judges, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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