• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Here's Johnny - Judge not, lest ye be gluttonous

THE “GANG OF FIVE,” minus photographer/chili cook-off judge John McGary, tasted a collective total of 50 cups of chili made by Jack Kain Ford employees for their 12th annual Chili Cook-Off Monday. (Only McGary finished each cup.) Far row, from left, Mark Ramsay and Bob Waitkus. Near row, from left, Scott Fitzpatrick and Fred Siegelman. (Photo by John McGary)

Folks ask where I get my column ideas. I tell them that a newspaper article or television story or interesting person I’ve just met sometimes strikes a chord and that other times, they come to me in dreams. Monday, the latest grist for the mill of Here’s Johnny came to me in the form of a bloated stomach after serving as one of five judges for Jack Kain Ford’s (JKF) 12th annual Chili Cook-Off. My esteemed colleagues were former Versailles Mayor Fred Siegelman, Bob Waitkus of Graviss McDonald’s, Scott Fitzpatrick of Midway University, and Mark Ramsay of Jack Kain Ford. Perhaps organizer Donna Sturgeon couldn’t get celebrities to return her calls (some of whom were busy trying to win that night’s Iowa Caucus), or she figured each of our Gang of Five brought a high level of integrity to the contest. What I brought, along with the aforementioned integrity, was an empty belly and a desire to fill it. The judging began at 11 a.m., with each of us given a list of rules to observe in the upstairs judging room: We were to use a new spoon for each of the 10 cups, clear our palates with crackers between cups, and not discuss the varieties mid-judging. “If you do (discuss), you will be asked to leave the judging area and your score sheet will be disregarded,” the judging form read. Some of the Gang of Five forgot that rule from time to time, and were quickly hushed by the others. The cups were marked with numbers, ensuring we’d have no knowledge of who made the chili but also making it very hard to seek payoffs from the contestants. Siegelman joked that he kept turning each cup upside down, looking for a $50 bill. At least, I think he was joking. Anyway, neither Fred nor myself found one. I had never judged a chili cook-off before, much less one with a near-Olympic level of scrutiny. That wasn’t the chief problem, though. The chief problem was that I felt compelled, whether by my high level of integrity or just plain gluttony, to finish each cup of chili. That wasn’t a problem at first. Cup #1 only had a couple of spoonfuls. Yet as the contest continued, with an employee bringing us a new round of cups every 90 seconds or so, I quickly saw that I was falling behind the pace of the other judges. Then I realized they were only eating a couple of bites of the stuff, which ranged in color from red to white and in heat from almost bland to forehead sweat-inducing. Meantime, all of us were furiously writing our scores for each of the five categories on which we were to judge the chili: aroma, flavor, consistency, color and after-taste. I dunno about the other guys, but as you might guess from my admission of gluttonous leanings, taste seemed most important to me. So I began to mimic the other judges, merely having a spoonful or three of each variety. I figured if I finished judging quickly enough, I could always down the remainders like a sailor doing whiskey shots on shore leave. It worked. I compiled the scores, which ranged from 1 to 10 in each category, 10 being the best. Most of my totals were around 40, indicating JKF workers might consider selling chili if the car thing peters out one day. There were only a few stains on my judging sheet when I turned it in. We walked downstairs (me a bit slower than the other judges, none of whom had cleaned all 10 of their plates) to await the tabulation, which may well have been performed by an outside accounting firm. (Sturgeon and other organizers should consider the Iowa Caucus themselves in four years, I say.) After Bob Kain asked for a round of applause for the esteemed judges (folks thought I might have blushed, but it was just the chili), the winner of the 12th annual Jack Kain Ford chili cook-off was announced: first-time entrant Mary Poe (#4), who was celebrating the beginning of her second week on the job. Poe received $50 in cash and a promise that her name would be inscribed on the impressive trophy. Poe was gracious in victory, and, as far as I know, hadn’t offered payoffs to any of the Gang of Five. As the cheers died down, Jack Kain invited employees, customers and judges alike to dig into a table full of 10 varieties of chili, along with sandwiches and other lunch fare. Having had my share of chili – actually, much of the world’s share of chili – I passed on the winter treat and settled for half a pimento cheese sandwich. I gave it a “9.”

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