Travel | My First Foodie Prom: The 2017 World Food Championships
In the last few years, I have heard quite a bit about the World Food Championships. I have met several Valley folks that have competed as well as a few others in my travels that were seasoned competitors. I thought I knew what the WFC was all about, but I had no idea.
I had the huge honor of being a part of the WFC Media Summit, along with 19 other food and travel writers from all over the country (and one from New Zealand.) The goal of the summit was to educate writers on the food sport; from what it takes to gain entry into the competition, the actual process of competing in kitchen stadium, the judging process and finally the overwhelming joy and excitement of the awards ceremony. My education was intense, immersive and has left an indelible impression on me. The WFC is not for the faint of heart, rather it takes an immense amount of heart, dedication and talent to get there.
I’m going to have a few posts about my trip to Alabama becuase there’s a lot to this story, so let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
First, let’s break down what the World Food Championships are:
This is a serious sport. Restaurant chefs, food personalities and home cooks from all over compete in local competitions that qualify them for entry into the World Food Competitions. They have already proven themselves to be winners in their hometowns and now they are looking to get the title, and a nice sum of cash, for their competition category and a chance to make it to the finals. A few interesting numbers from this years WFC:
- By the end of the competition, 8,862 dishes will have been created and judged
- Out of 448 total competition teams, 51 of those were international
- Australia, Canada, Africa, the Dominican Republic, Germany, Guam, Haiti, China, Japan, the UK, Philippines and the Netherlands were all represented
- Of all the competitors 40% are made up of professionally trained chefs, 40% competition teams and 20% are home cooks
- Over 180 new judges were WFC certified
- There was over $300k in equipment in kitchen stadium and almost $20k in the area that surrounded the stadium
- There are close to 800 different competitions throughout the year that will get you a “golden ticket” into the WFC
Crazy, right? I had no idea it was such an intense, and expensive, competition. It takes a lot to put on an event like this and you would be surprised to know that admission to the event for the public…is free! You can pay $5 to go through the tasting village and load up on samples, but the event itself, the attractions, demos and symposiums are absolutely free.
If you needed three words to sum up the World Food Championships, I would suggest passion, purpose and people. That’s really what it all boils down to. Mike McCloud, the event organizer, shared with us that this was the new field of dreams. Mike shared, “For years, chef stardom or celebrity chef status has been an elusive dream. If you don’t have an agent or know someone in the industry, it’s almost impossible to get ahead. The army of chefs that are around now have their own circle of influencers. The World Food Championships helps them to grow that.” To prove that, Food Network was filming on our first day, covering the seafood competition. They had four teams that they decided were the front runners and spent the majority of their attention capturing every moment of their kitchen stadium experience. Seafood winner, Kim Banick, is about to get A LOT of attention. Remember her name.
One of my favorite things that I learned about the WFC is that food sport is agnostic in the sense that everyone starts out on a level playing field. No one cares what your training was. Every single competitor got there because of their talent. Everyone won a competition in order to get there, once they all walk up to their stations in kitchen stadium, the onus is on them to prove that they are as great as they say they are.
Everyone has the same equipment and fancy extras are not allowed. Mostly. I happened to be interviewing a team when one of the event cheferees (yes, you read that right) came up to inform them that they were not allowed to use the sous vide that they were utilizing for their signature dish. While it was technically against the rules, they had a choice to make. They could either stop using the device altogether and quickly adapt to a Plan B or they could continue with the sous vide and take a one-point deduction. While it’s nice to have that option points are very serious business. The difference between first and second place in the first round of the seafood competition was .9375! The idea behind this rule is that any person given the same equipment and opportunity has just as much a chance as winning as the next guy.
The thing that most impressed me about the competitors was the absolute feeling of family. I met people that helped others out with ingredients and advice, teams that shared their sous chefs and competitors that showed up as strangers and walked away as friends. Sure, there is a high level of competition and stress, but the process of the WFC changes lives and provides competitors with a greater sense of confidence and love of the sport.
I was afforded the unique opportunity of chatting with the seafood competitors on my first day and I made up a fun video of the interviews. My favorite quote of the day comes from the first competitor in the video. He said, “The World Food Competition is my oyster!” I loved the play on words (the required portion of this round was Oysters Rockefeller) as well as how well it really encompassed the whole idea of WFC. Check it out and let me know what you think.
If you’re keen on competing, I’ll make sure to let you know when qualifying competitions come to town! IAlso stay tuned from some more coverage on my trip to WFC!
Until then, do something delicious!