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Articles

Snider Judges Bounty Of County

By Misty Volaski

Ojai Valley foodies will simmer in a jealousy reduction when they hear what Lisa Snider got to do at the Ventura County Fair this year.
The free-lance food and wine writer (and host of Radio Ojai) was asked to be a judge for the fair’s second annual “Bounty of the County” competition.
Snider, along with fellow judges Jane Handel (of Edible Ojai), Lisa McKinnon (of the Ventura County Star), Dianne Linderman (of Ventura County Fair) and Nancy Raibaldi (an audience member), judged two teams of local chefs, wine and beer makers and farmers on a three-course meal. The foods and wines were required to be grown and made locally, hence the name of the competition.
“The (fair representatives) called me!” she explained on being chosen for judge. “This is (a judging panel) I would’ve begged to be on! I had already helped them with the wine judging, so they knew me. I got lucky and got a spot on panel. These are gourmet meals!”
One team was from Ventura’s SideCar Restaurant, which teamed with Ojai’s Rio Gozo Farm and Oak View’s Old Creek Winery. The second consisted of Ventura’s Zoey’s Cafe, Camarillo’s McGrath Family Farms, and Santa Barbara’s Telegraph Brewery.
The judges began with Zoey’s Cafe and crew, which presented a first course of a goat cheese, beet and dandelion green salad (from McGrath Family Farms), complemented with reserve wheat ale from Telegraph Brewing Company. Watkins Cattle Company of Piru contributed the main dish, a steak filet with a turnip puree, three types of beans and succotash of corn (all from McGrath’s). Telegraph Brewing paired that with its California ale. Dessert was Trufflehounds’ pots de creme, McGrath’s fresh berries and Telegraph’s stock porter.
Snider said she was quite impressed, especially with the brave pairing of food and beer over the more traditional food and wine. “Zoey’s isn’t necessarily known for the food, but, oh my gosh, they will be now!” Snider said. “You can see a lot of up-and-coming musicians there, but they recently moved and got a bigger kitchen, so are offering more food. I’m definitely going to have to have dinner there soon. They did an excellent job.”
Team SideCar offered a first course of an heirloom tomato, cucumber and Vidalia onion salad from Rio Gozo Farm, on which was drizzled a vinaigrette featuring Petty Ranch’s Meyer lemons. They paired it with Old Creek Winery’s 2009 Loureiro (grown in Santa Ynez). Short ribs from Watkins Cattle Co. were served with Rio Gozo’s Yukon mashed potatoes, creamed swiss chard and roasted garlic, which was paired with an Old Creek Ranch carignane for the main course. Dessert was a blackberry shortcake and an albarino ice wine, all of which also came from Old Creek.
“I hadn’t even heard of two of their three wines!” Snider said. “(John and Carmel Whitman) are doing a lot with Mediterranean-influenced grapes. The Loureiro was a very light, floral wine. The carignane was beautiful, smoky and smooth and paired wonderfully with the dish. It was neat to try new things, it wasn’t just the same old cabernet or chardonnay, it was totally different.”
Snider was pleased with both entries. Team SideCar’s creamed swiss chard “… was so so good! It was such a rich, decadent dish.”
Judging a three-course meal in front of an audience was an interesting experience, she said. “Here I am chomping on my food, trying to articulate what I think about it without talking with my mouth full!” she laughed. “I ate six plates of food, six beverages, and before I went (to judge), I had deep-fried Oreos and pan bread. I didn’t even eat the next day!”
With full tummies, the judges gave SideCar the edge, but by just two points out of 100.
The weekend before, however, was a little more “interesting,” as Snider judged the wine competition with a group of five others. Last year’s event, which Snider also helped judge, offered both commercial and noncommercial wines; this year, commercial wine judging was moved to the Mid-State Fair.
While homemade, the 2010 entries did offer some bright stars, like Shadetree Winery, whose petit sirah-petit verdot blend not only placed first in its class, but also received the highly desired Best in Show ribbon.
“We didn’t have to pick a Best in Show if the entries didn’t merit one,” Snider said, “but this was a standout wine, it was that good.”
Many of the 36 entries, however, were less than fantastic, Snider confessed. “Some were just awful. Rosemary should never be made into wine. You know that show ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate?’ That was the worst thing I ever drank!”
Still, it was an adventure. Snider tasted 20 wines this year; reds, whites, and all the in-betweens. Part of wine judging is strategizing to preserve your palate for the duration of the tasting process. She and her fellow judges opted to taste the heavier wines last, because “after a while your palate is just killed.”
Judges didn’t get to see the names or labels of the wines they tasted until afterward, when they gave each label a score to add to each entry’s total.
“Some of them don’t have labels, just masking tape with a marker,” Snider said. “But some had fancy labels, and got points for that.”
Snider hastened to explain that the term “competition” is a little deceiving. “We weren’t comparing the wines against each other,” she said. “We’re not necessarily saying, ‘Yeah, that one was way better than the last one.’ They all stand on their own merit.”
Snider offered praise to the fair organizers. “They do such a great job! Everyone who works there is so nice; they love what they’re doing. They have plenty of water, crackers, bread and cheese available, and a sandwich buffet afterwards.” Good thing, she laughed, because “some of us were a little tipsy after!”

Ojai Valley foodies will simmer in a jealousy reduction when they hear what Lisa Snider got to do at the Ventura County Fair this year. The free-lance food and wine writer (and host of Radio Ojai) was asked to be a judge for the fair’s second annual “Bounty of the County” competition. Snider, along with fellow judges Jane Handel (of Edible Ojai), Lisa McKinnon (of the Ventura County Star), Dianne Linderman (of Ventura County Fair) and Nancy Raibaldi (an audience member), judged two teams of local chefs, wine and beer makers

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