Monday, August 24, 2009
Tomato Contest: Winner!
On Saturday I entered the Show Me Your Tomatoes contest hosted by this awesome Tapas restaurant called Cafe Ba Ba Reeba. I'd first read about the contest on Chicago Garden and since I had what I thought was the ugliest tomato (one of the contest categories) in town growing in my backyard, I decided to enter. And since there were two tickets to Las Vegas being awarded for the Tastiest Tomato, I thought I'd be crazy not to enter that, too. I've got 18 tomato plants growing in my garden for God's sake! I bought some from our community garden, some from Chicago Tomato Fest plant sale and a few from Jewel grocery because they sold organic heirlooms again this year and, well, they were right there while I was shopping. I had no choice!
Big Ugly is a Brandywine tomato grown organically by Forest Park Community Garden for their plant sale. I didn't do anything special to this particular plant and if you've grown Heirloom Brandywine before, you know they have a tendency to get pretty mutated. But, the flavor! Holy smokes they are amazing. In the days leading up to the contest I had a lot of fun showing the picture of Big Ugly to people and watching them grimace. My husband was so creeped out by it that he would only agree to go to the contest with me if I "covered that thing up so that he didn't have to look at it again."
I'd planned to enter a Heirloom Mortgage Lifter (I'm growing it for the first time this year) for the tastiest because I think the flavor is really interesting. But, Saturday morning when I went out to harvest the Mortgage, I was horrified to find that there was not a single ripe one that didn't have some flaw. Thank you, squirrels! But, I did find a couple of nice looking Heirloom Cherokee Purple (pictured above) tomatoes. I'm growing them for the first time this year, too, but the problem was that I had not tasted the Cherokee Purple myself. The first ones were literally just ripe on Saturday morning. So, while I'd read that these tomatoes are one of the most delicious heirlooms you can grow, I had no personal evidence of that.
Cafe Ba Ba Reeba has hosted the Show Me Your Tomatoes contest for four years. We found all the staff extremely warm and friendly and we'll definitely be going back there for dinner soon. The judges were Lyle Allen, Executive Director of Chicago Green Market, WGN's Mr. Fix-it, Lou Manfredini and Doug Tomek, owner of Uncle Dougie's. All very nice gentlemen and as I watched them taste the tomatoes, I could tell that they really love and savor tomatoes, just like me.
Just before the judging started, I was admiring all the entries in the various categories (Ugliest, Famous, Biggest, Heaviest and Tastiest) when a lady asked from her table "which one is yours". When I pointed out Big Ugly, she said "yep, that's the winner!" I was pretty confident.
Then, after I thought the entry deadline had already passed, a lady walked by me with a really big crazy looking tomato and I groaned "oh boy, I may have some competition."
Let me just cut to the chase - they did not call my name for ugliest tomato. This late entry won that prize and dinner for four at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba. I was pretty disappointed and to be honest, just wishing they'd hurry up and finish so we could go home (it was really cold on Saturday and we'd been sitting there freezing for a couple of hours by then.)
When they called my name for tastiest tomato, it was like I'd won the lottery. I screamed and my husband jumped up and high-five'd me. As I walked toward the front to claim my prize (round trip tickets for 2 to Las Vegas including 3 nights/4 days hotel stay and dinner for two at Cafe Ba Ba Reeba, Las Vegas), the judges and the restaurant owner seemed really happy. "I would like to introduce the 2009 Tomato Queen." They put a leaf tiara on me and snapped a couple of pictures of me and the chef. I really never dreamed I'd win for tastiest. In my head I'm still a novice gardener - I'm lucky to get anything to grow much less grow something that is tastier than like 15 other tomatoes probably grown by much more experienced gardeners. It was the happiest my husband and I have been in quite a while. And it's been a rough few months so we really needed this.
A word of advice about tomato contests - know the variety you are entering! The girl who won for Heaviest Tomato was asked what variety it was by the crowd and she said "I have no idea." I didn't think too much of it until my husband told me later that, after I won and somebody in the crowd asked me the variety; they were all "well at least she knows what kind it is!"
I don't think I've ever won any contest where skill was involved. It's an amazing feeling, especially considering it involved a tomato, the most perfect food on the planet.