Cooking contests require a great deal of brain power and creativity, plus flat out hard work. Most of us foodie contest junkies basically work alone in our laboratories, our kitchens, as we go from our wheels turning in our heads to create a new recipe that fits the contest guidelines to actually designing and making the recipes—oftentimes, several times because you have to refine not only ingredients, amounts, but also execution and details like how long to cook or bake, to photographing your work—as some contests want a photo, then to entering it. If it stopped there, most all of us, and I’d venture to say 99% of us, would be delighted. Happy. Fulfilled. And, ready to move to the next contest. With gusto and excitement!
But, in this new world of cooking contests, it doesn’t stop there. Oh, no, most contests are now requiring voting by the public. Yeah, this is not a huge issue if you’re on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ or ‘American Idol’ but we aren’t. We have limited platforms for garnering votes—our friends on Facebook, maybe sending out an email to your mailing list, standing on the street wearing a sandwich sign. Some contests base the actual ‘winner’ on the number of votes one receives. Oh, yeah, I’ve won contests that way, and it’s doesn’t feel really good to me. Why? Because all it is a popularity and begging contest. It means I had a way to reach a lot of people, usually through Facebook, and I have doggedly asked for, no ‘begged’ as in posting often, votes.
Before I began competitive contest cooking entries the last time I’d asked for votes was back in college, my freshman year, when I was running for freshman homecoming queen. I and my sorority sisters handed out flyers, stood on the corners of busy campus intersections, stayed in the student union and worked incessantly, like skilled politicians, to get votes—we were close to the Tammany Hall gang! It was then and is now exhausting. It’s even more so ridiculously unfair in cooking contests because it doesn’t really showcase and select the best entry—at least in my humble opinion—only the recipe entry that gets the most votes. Of course, we know why the sponsoring companies do this—it brings traffic their way, it increases their brand exposure—we are working hard for them to be even more successful and profitable.
Sadly, even the most prestigious cooking contest of all times, the Pillsbury Bake-Off, has succumbed to requiring voting—such a shame because , again, if you’re in a voting group on Facebook, have a large following in the social media, then you’re sure to secure a spot in the finalists, but if you’re not, and you’ve made it to the cut-off group of the category, then you could be toast, dead meat, wasted, dried up and probably won’t move on to the next round—and you could very well have the best recipe! Another issue with voting are irregularities, scamming, boting, and other mechanisms that can make the entire process unfair.
Now, please for goodness sake don’t think I’m all sour grapes. Some of the fine print in the contest guidelines says that there’s a voting period, but that the actual winner(s) will be selected by a judging panel on various criteria. That’s good—that fine print’s important because that means you don’t wear yourself out scavenging for votes. However, I’m convinced that the best cooking contests are those that don’t require a public vote. Those are the contests that I covet. Those are the contests that I look for and enter. Those are the contests that if I win, as in the Wisconsin Cheese ‘Grilled Cheese Academy’, I feel like I truly have created a competitive recipe that’s been evaluated by professional chefs, most probably made by the chef(s) and tested in the sponsoring company’s kitchen. That kind of contest evaluation is on merit—skill, talent, creativity, culinary finesse. And, not on being a teenager back in high school or college, and trying to be the most liked, prettiest, funniest, whatever and having all your groupies vote for you.
At this point in my contest cooking career, I’m carefully picking and choosing which contests I enter—I’m not going to wear out my friends and voting groups continually asking them to vote. It’s just not fair—folks are busy, and this voting takes time—I know I belong to a few voting groups on Facebook, and I support faithfully my friends. I think probably a lot of other really talented home chefs feel the same way I do—alas, it’s ultimately the loss of the recipe contest world because these sponsoring companies hosting contests are over losing some, no doubt, amazing recipes created by home chefs, like me, that could be in their coffers. If you’re planning on entering a contest, read the fine print very well, and if there’s voting involved that leads to the winner, your work is only beginning! Just make sure the prize package is worth the effort because you’ll be earning that prize with your sweat equity!