AZ Taco Fest Planners School Judges in Taco Tasting
You think judging a taco contest sounds like a lark? Yeah, I thought so, too. But the AZ Taco Fest, held October 20-21 at Salt River Fields gets bigger and better every year (this is its third), and its founders-promoters-and-all-around-grunts Rick Phillips and David Tyda (a.k.a. the Eateraz boyz) want to make sure every aspect of the event is 100 percent legit.
Courtesy of David Tyda and Rick Phillips Pretty tacos to taste
And to that end, they invited all the new judges to a quick meeting at The Mission in Scottsdale on Wednesday night for a rundown of how judging will be handled. Whew! It sounds like a lot of eating, a lot of dithering, and a lot of work. Get this . . .
There were maybe 15 of us, sitting at a long table on the patio (only new judges showed up for this meeting) -- me at one end with a bucket of iced Tecate at my feet. Already I'm impressed. Tyda stood up and above the din of diners around us, spoke about the National Taco Association that he and Phillips founded, explaining that they took a page from "age-old barbecue contests," which are governed by organizations that certify judges and provide rules to be followed.
Courtesy of David Tyda and Rick Phillips AZ Taco Fest trophies
In doing so, they provide peace of mind to competitors who know that sanctioned events have 1) serious judges, 2) fair scoring, and 3) an actual prize fund that will be awarded in a timely manner.
We were given the list of rules the competitors must follow, told about the taco categories (chicken, pork, beef and seafood) and told about the prizes: 1st place, $300; 2nd place, $200; 3rd place, $100 + a $1,000 Grand Champion award and a $500 Reserve Champion. Then we got down to the nuts and bolts.
There are 50 entrants in the competition for the entire weekend with judging on Saturday and Sunday. Each contestant must submit six tacos in the approved container provided, a custom-made box with six compartments. Contestants are encouraged to go wild with decorations, garnishes, and presentation, but the box can in no way identify or make reference to the restaurant or team name. This is an anonymous tasting, and judges are not to be influenced by any person, business or restaurant they may know.
Garnishes are good, but sauce in a container is a no-no. It's gotta be served on the taco. Period. End of story.