Confessions of a Celebrity Judge

Sunday, June 29, 2014
Photo courtesy of Ribfest
Yesterday was the culmination, and the ultimate payoff, of all my experience as a food blogger. The many years of testing recipes on behalf of my readers and posting them online paid off in the quintessential perk.

Yesterday, I was a celebrity food judge at Toronto Ribfest.

Here's what happens when you're a celebrity judge: You report to a VIP tent 20 minutes before judging begins. You meet the other judges, maybe even pose for a selfie with one of them. You proceed to a stage where you sit in front of a couple of hundred people who are prepared to watch you eat chicken for an hour. (Okay, maybe a few were there to watch the Colombia/Uruguay World Cup match, showing on the screen beside the stage.) You get samples of sixteen of the best pieces of barbecued chicken you've ever eaten, served up by vendors like Pistol Pete's, or Bad Wolf, or Hawgs Go Wild. You rank this chicken (identified by number only) in terms of appearance, flavour and overall excellence. And you do all of this while trying your best not to cover the table, and yourself, with barbecue sauce.

I had the honour of serving on a panel with Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames (far left in top photo) and Ali Hassan, stand-up comedian and chef (far right). I sat next to Matt Hart (with me in the photo above) of Indie 88, the one radio station everyone in my family loves, and we talked about music between plates of chicken.

But the real celebrities are the people who run Toronto Ribfest, and who volunteer at the charities that benefit from it. People like my friend Hugh, who's a co-chair of the event, and who hopes to raise half a million dollars for charity over Ribfest's five days. People like Jennifer, who sat on my left side at the judging table, and who serves as chair for Stonegate Community Health Centre. Thanks to these dedicated people, and many others like them, our community is a little more welcoming to those who need the help most.
With co-chair Hugh Williams and fellow celebrity judge Maurice Blitz.
Photo courtesy of Ribfest.
There's no recipe for barbecued chicken today, because how could I compete with the sixteen best that Ribfest had to offer? (Also because I may be giving chicken a pass for a couple of days.) Instead, I'm sharing a recipe for risotto, something that will appeal to carnivores and herbivores alike.  This risotto is light and delicious and, contrary to popular belief, doesn't require constant stirring. Just give it a stir every couple of minutes, and you'll be a celebrity in your own home.

Corn, Asparagus and Basil Barley Risotto
(from Eats Well With Others)

Note: This risotto would also be great with sliced cremini mushrooms or garden-fresh peas.


4 cups vegetable broth
4 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 cup barley
1/2 cup white wine
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 1/2 cups corn, fresh or frozen
1 cup basil, thinly sliced
1/4 cup parmesan cheese


Combine the vegetable broth and water in a medium pot. Bring to a simmer.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt, and sauté until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in the barley and cook for a minute, stirring constantly. Ad the white wine and cook until almost totally evaporated.

Pour 2 cups of the heated broth mixture into the pot with the barley. Cook, stirring frequently, until almost evaporated. Then add the broth mixture 1 cup at a time, only adding more after the rest has almost evaporated, stirring frequently. Repeat until barley is cooked through and tender.

Add the asparagus with the final cup of the broth mixture, simmering until almost evaporated. Stir in the corn and cook until heated through.

Remove from the heat. Season to taste with salt and black pepper, and serve with basil and parmesan.


Valerie Gamine said...

Not a bad gig, the life of a food blogger! :D *Congrats!*
Your risotto looks scrumptious!!

Julie said...

Nice!!! Congratulations!!!

What a great take on risotto! Have a great week.

Jemi Fraser said...

What an awesome opportunity! Sounds like an absolute blast!!
We love risotto here - and this sounds like a great addition! Another bookmark :)

Jessica Lawson said...

This is too cool! So neat that you got to meet nice new people, eat yummy food, and help support charity all at the same time. And yes, I could see possibly not wanting to eat chicken for a little while :) The risotto looks fabulous.

Alida said...

Wow! What an honor for you. These are the things that make all that hard work worthwhile. Congratulations!

Gloria Baker said...

Amazing Beth! Congrats to you!:)

Bonnie said...

What fun! The risotto recipe looks divide. Risottos are a favorite here, and I don't find them overwhelming to make either. Have a wonderful week. B.

Vi said...

So fun!! I bet that was a blast. And the risotto looks amazing, perfect and light for summer.

Katerina said...

Contrary to the myth of continuous stirring, a perfect risotto can be made without stirring and stirring. My son loves risotto and I make it every other night and I stir occasionally. Your risotto looks perfect!

Liz That Skinny Chick Can Bake said...

Congratulations!!! I'm so glad your talent has been noticed and confirmed :) Love your barley risotto...looks delish!

Joanne said...

What a crazy fun experience!! I'm sure you were all bbq-ed out by the end of it. I'm so glad you liked my risotto!

Beth said...

I loved it, Joanne! Your recipes never disappoint.

Barbara said...

That must have been fun, Beth, let alone delicious. Lucky you!
Lovely veggie risotto...Joanne's recipes are the best!

nancy at good food matters said...

good for you, Beth. I have judged a few contests in my day, and it generally is a very fun (and filling!) experience. Beautiful risotto dish--love the use of alternative grains!

Unknown said...

Wow - being a judge sounds like a lot of fun, and a lot of food! Glad that you enjoyed it. Gorgeous risotto recipe, thanks for sharing it!

Caroline Taylor said...

Wow, great day! This risotto sounds so good.

amy (fearless homemaker) said...

How fantastic that you got to be a judge - sounds like a blast! And how great does that risotto sound?! Yum!

Kitchen Riffs said...

It must have been fun trying all of those different chickens! Although I'd be off chicken for a bit after gorging myself like that, too. ;-) I love risotto -- lovely stuff. And this is a great recipe -- thanks.

Daniela Grimburg said...

Wow, Beth this is so exciting and so well deserved!
Risotto is one of my all time favorites and your version looks very tempting.

Choc Chip Uru @ Go Bake Yourself said...

What great fun being a judge :D
And who can resist risotto!

Choc Chip Uru

Anonymous said...

Congrats Beth. I bet it was difficult making that decision for the best chicken BBQ. Guess what? I was planning on making a risotto for dinner tomorrow. Thanks for the recipe as this sounds lovely. Take Care, BAM

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