A Newfound Public Interest In Culinary Arts That Really Always Existed
Public interest in culinary arts and food competitions has never been higher. Ever since food television networks entered the mass media arena, the number of viewers that have taken interest in food topic TV programming has grown exponentially.
More consumers are now trying new cooking ideas that they learned while watching cooking shows. The dining public is influenced by cuisine trends that are publicized by the TV food media. Far more high school graduates develop interest in pursuing a culinary arts education, because they are inspired by what they see on TV food networks. Overall, the American television viewing public is now knows more about food and culinary arts than ever before.
For way too many years culinary arts were neglected by the American media. In many countries around the globe, culinary entertainment has always been a prime time media tradition that draws plenty of interest.
Why it took so long for food topic programming to become prime time broadcasting material in America can only be attributed to TV executives understating the real interests of the viewing audience. At some point, TV programmers decided that guns and violence were more important to air than the arts. It is easy to see that this decision was short sighted, because of the number of viewers that watch TV food programs in recent years seems to be greater than those who watch the same old cops & robbers theme shows.
Years ago, there were only token daytime cooking shows that aired during soap opera time slot hours, so the targeted audience was housewives or retirees that sought easy recipes to make. Other than on public sponsored television, very little focus was placed upon restaurants, professional chefs or innovative cuisine trends. Apparently by not accurately reading the interests of the viewing audience, the old school TV networks failed to fully capitalize on the potential of prime time TV food show programming.
Nowadays, food topic TV programming is 24/7 and the peak viewing time window occurs during prime time hours. This is the complete opposite of how things used to be. Describing a highly publicized new food competition, like the World Food Championships, as simply "riding the tide of the general public's newfound interest in culinary arts" is really not an accurate statement of the times. Americans have always been interested in anything that has to do with food, but the general public's interests were ignored by the media. The new wave of major competitive culinary events and the televised prime time coverage, simply fills a void that has existed for many decades.
The 2014 World Food Championships
The World Food Championships definitely helps to fill the prime time food topic programming void that existed for many years. Americans like prime time food topic shows, especially when cooking competitions are in the spotlight. As far as popular cooking competitions go, the World Food Championships takes the cake!
The World Food Championships is a highly publicized competitive event that takes place each year in Las Vegas. Last year, the WFC moved from the Bally's and Caesar's Palace locations on the Las Vegas Strip to downtown Fremont Street. It seems like the Fremont Street Experience organization and the downtown casinos are all pleased with the high number of spectators that the World Food Championships draw, so it it looks like downtown Las Vegas will more than likely host this competitive event in the future.
I have photographed the WFC three years in a row and have written articles about this event that were published in this website. The WFC has evolved from the inaugural 2012 event, that many describe as being roughshod, to becoming a very well organized event that maintains a high level of professionalism.
There was a big organizational improvement between the 2012 WFC and the 2013 WFC events. The competitors that I spoke with really liked the changes. Many of the pro competitors liked how the playing field was evened out, so favoritism or predetermined bias was eliminated. Everybody had a fair chance to win top prize money in every category during the 2013 WFC. There were no comments heard about how the contest was rigged.
Many competitors that participated in the 2012 WFC mentioned that the winning contestant selection process was suspect, because an employee of the casino corporation that hosted the event actually won the top prize money. Honestly, when something like that occurs, the losers do have good reason to complain.
After the WFC event moved to the downtown location, things were obviously fair and square. Every competitor was smiling and I have heard no more suspicious comments at all. The same can be said about this year's WFC event. Even the sore losers had no conspiracies to voice an opinion upon.
I attended the major events that took place on Saturday afternoon at the World Food Championships. I really focused on the Chili Cook Off event and the BBQ Competition, because these cuisine styles are my cup of tea.
Interacting with BBQ and Chili Contest competitors is always a blast, because these folks really know how to have a fun time. Part of the successful BBQ and Chili marketing equation is shock value. The advertisements, banners, competition team attire and lingo spoken is all meant to draw attention to the BBQ and Chili. The wilder and crazier, the better!
I spoke with one Chili Cook Off Competitor after another at the WFC. I also sampled nearly every chili that they cooked. I happen to be a chili eatin' freak, so even after tasting over a dozen small bowls of chili, I was ready for more. Every chili was unique in its own way and every chili had a good flavor.
The chili competitors definitely had what it takes to compete in a world class event. Even better, the competitors really were having a great time in doing so. One word of caution for those who have never talked about chili with a chili cooking pro. One you get a chili competitor talking, you may end up having to stand there and listen for quite a spell. These folks will talk about chili to no end!
After being all ears between getting a few chances to mention my cooking credentials to the chili cooking folks, I was almost happy to see that the WFC BBQ competition teams were right in the middle of plating food for judging. The BBQ cooks were busy and they were being a bit on the secretive side. Not bothering the BBQ competitors with questions was the right thing to do. Observing and taking photos caused less interference.
The smell of choice hardwood charcoal smoke and good BBQ was thick in the air. Even after tasting a bunch of chili, that aroma caused my tummy to growl. Unfortunately, spectators have to wait for the pro competition to be finished, before free tasting samples are unleashed. Competitors that were competing for popular choice awards, were allowed to dish up samples of alternative offerings as they pleased. Everybody likes to taste good chili and BBQ, so it helps to know when the tasting officially commences.
After listening to a few BBQ competitors describe their food creations to judges on stage, I realized that being able to lay the bullshit down in a lengthy thick manner was still part of the BBQ contest game. One simply has to invent brand new descriptive words that are at least ten letters long, while saying amazing things about the plate of BBQ, in order to captivate the judges in a BBQ competition. Those who can rattle off some extreme BBQ lingo jive talkin' do have an advantage when being judged at a food competition event.
At about the time that I was ready to head for home, the Freestyle Food Competition was just starting to make headway. Many of these folks were serious about their food and they barely interacted with spectators. All eyes were on the top prize money, so the focus was on their own competitive cooking.
Most of the competitors had amateur or semi professional status, so this made the event interesting to watch. When the time keeper started the minute by minute countdown to the deadline, the pressure quickly reached the boiling point. Seeing how competitors react when time is running out, always is an entertaining sight to see. Some panic, some have a minor nervous break down and some really keep it together. Keeping one's own composure is important in a freestyle cooking event.
All in all, the Saturday afternoon World Food Championship events were well worth attending. There was plenty of good food, plenty of fun people and plenty of good conversation. I met plenty of new faces and exchanged contact information. Everybody smiled for the camera and every competitor was having a great time. Spectators were drawn to the events in great numbers and it was easy to see why the World Food Championships are good wholesome prime time entertainment.
Those who plan a trip to Vegas in November of next year should keep the WFC event in mind. The WFC events run for an entire week. The field is narrowed down to top competitors in each category toward the weekend. The final table event is comprised of winners in each category and this takes place at the end of the schedule. Many of the competitions require no admission fee, but tickets must be purchased for featured events, like the final table competition for the big jackpot cash prize.
For more information about the 2014 World Food Championships and next year's event schedule, follow this link.
• World Food Championships
Vendor & Sponsor Mentions
A list of vendor links follows the vendor descriptions!
I did get a chance to talk to a Tahoe Kitchen Company cutlery vendor that I met at last year's WFC event. Viewers who prefer top notch quality kitchen knives and fancy dining room service steak knives will be interested in Hammer Stahl has to offer. The Tahoe Kitchen Company also offers a high quality line of gourmet olive oil products.
I also spoke with representatives of the Operation BBQ Relief Charity. This charity accepts donations for stockpiling food for disaster relief. When a major disaster occurs, like a tornado, hurricane or earthquake, this charitable organization mobilizes a temporary BBQ kitchen on site and they feed displaced disaster victims. This is a noteworthy charity that provides direct relief with minimal bureaucracy involved.
Potato Goodness Unearthed sponsors the Top Tater program. Top Tater is a unique event that offers prize money for pictures of potato creations and potato recipes. Anybody can enter to win weekly prize money.
Those who are interested in seeing what a chili contest competitor's website is like, the Central Texas Tolbert Chili Group is a good example. This organization offers good Texas Chili information.
• Tahoe Kitchen Company
• Operation BBQ Relief
• Potato Goodness Unearthed - Top Tater
• Central Texas Tolbert Chili Group
Many more vendor, restaurant, catering and competitor website addresses can be seen in the slide show photos. I always try to capture images of links while at food competition events, in case viewers see a food product or kitchen item that catches the eye!