I've always thought it ironic that judges of writing contests invariably commit one of the cardinal sins of writing themselves in announcing the winning entry. Without fail, they resort to clichés in describing the winner, and how hard it was to pick just one.
Now that I've walked a mile in their shoes (pardon the cliché) as the judge of the My Last Supper contest, I understand why. Choosing a winner from among the scores of entries written by foodies describing their hypothetical last meal was indeed difficult.
Some wrote with such passion and precision that I could practically taste the food (sorry, another cliché). Roast duck, for instance, "cooked simply in a Tuscan sort of way, nicely spicy with a thin coat of olive oil, and amply roasted so the pull of gravity was enough to let the flavorful meat fall from the bones." Or this description of Wilber's barbecue: "While the vinegar and peppers crank up the velocity, it's the smoky goodness that slows the chewing and makes a diner bask in the inner glow of embers long since darkened."
Others tugged at my heartstrings (oops, there's another one) with nostalgic descriptions of Mom's mac and cheese (Mom was a school cafeteria cook), or Aunt Murt's pecan pie with a cold glass of whole milk from Pine State Creamery, or a Sicilian family gathering in Alabama in the 1940s. There was the 15-year-old boy whose precocious palate encompassed everything from Persian fesenjan to Austrian Wiener schnitzel. And the retired man who wanted his last meal to be composed of his wife's favorite dishes, in token of his love and appreciation for all the meals she has made for him over the years.
In the end, I selected Terry Haggerty's entry, which appealed to both my heart and my palate. Reading her description of a "fantasy flight" that travels all over the Western hemisphere in search of her most fondly remembered seafood dishes made me want to take that journey myself. And if I couldn't experience those "pillowy mussels in a big black bowl" in Toronto, or cacerola de mariscos on a "bougainvillea-splashed patio overlooking the bay" in Isla Taboga, at least I could meet the passionate foodie and talented writer who wrote about them.
I did just that on Saturday night, when Terry Haggerty and her guest joined my wife and me for a review dinner. I can't reveal where we dined, because I plan more visits to the restaurant and I wouldn't want to tip my hand. But I think it's safe to say that seafood was involved, and that we all had a wonderful time.
And as a bonus, I'm able to conclude the announcement with words very few contest judges get to say: I got to share the prize with the winner.
Note: You can read Terry Haggerty's winning entry in its entirety on my blog: http://blogs.newsobserver.com/epicurean.