This past January, I received an email with the subject line "Taste of OSU - Food Judging." I immediately got so excited because I had been trying to figure out a way to get involved with the event. Taste of OSU is an Ohio State Signature Event, showcasing foods from different cultural clubs around campus. The food contest takes place every year in February and always attracts a large crowd. Taste of OSU's purpose is "to allow the campus community to experience other cultures through the tasting of ethnic foods from around the world and to provide students from different backgrounds a space to share and celebrate their culture and traditions through food, educational displays and performances."

The requirements to be a judge were as follows: no food allergies, not a picky eater, and able to sample 10 different foods. Sounded like an amazing opportunity to me! I quickly accepted, expressing my enthusiasm for the event. 

Leading up to the event, I was so excited to finally be a judge in a food contest. I received information about when I needed to arrive as well as a list of all the clubs participating. And how could I forget - next to each club's name was the dishes they would be preparing to be judged. My mouth watered as I read the list: chicken biryani, cannolis, Thai basil chicken, and crêpes - just to name a few. 

Taste of OSU

I arrived to the Ohio Union at the designated time for a Round One Judge. I was surprised when I walked in to find out that I would be judging from a conference room, not in the space where the event was taking place. I honestly felt more official doing it this way because there were volunteers bringing food in for me to taste. There was even a TV screen set up so we could watch the different performances while we judged the food contest.

The other two judges were from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Office of International Affairs. It was definitely interesting being the youngest person in the room, but we had a lot of fun trying all of the different foods! The three of us each had ten different plates to try, and then we picked our top two to move on to the Second Round. We had score sheets for each dish based on appearance, overall flavor, and the texture of the food. 

The wait was finally over. The first few plates were placed in front of me, and I could barely contain my excitement. I began my tastings!

Puerto Rican Student Association 

Jackie Heller

The first thing I tried was Pernil, slow roasted pork shoulder, and Arroz con gandules, rice with pigeon peas and ham. I typically don't eat pork, but was impressed by the juicy and flavorful meat. The rice was just fine, there wasn't anything wrong with it but it also wasn't amazing. In my notes I even wrote that the dish could use more spice.

Ukrainian Society 

Jackie Heller

Next, I tried Holubsti, vegetarian stuffed cabbage, and Mendivnyk, honey cake. Both of these just based on looks didn't impress me, but once I took a bite from each, they immediately proved me wrong. The cabbage was so delicious and the honey cake was extremely moist. Both reminded me of dishes my Grandma likes to make. This quickly became one of my favorites. I even wrote "love" next to both dishes on the scoresheet. 

German Club

Jackie Heller

This was one of the plates that I was really excited to try when I saw it on my list. The presentation of the plate got my hopes even higher. However, I was quickly disappointed. I tasted a pretzel, which was hard and dry, but still had a good flavor. Then I took a bite of windbeutel, a sweet cream puff. While it was really sweet, the texture, again, was a bit hard. The windbeutel still tasted great though. I thought this plate could've been better if they had a cheese dip for the pretzel and both items had fluffier dough. 

Brazilian Students Association

Jackie Heller

My first impression of this plate wasn't great because I was a little confused by the combination of foods, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. I tried Salpicão, Brazilian chicken salad, and a vegan chocolate cake. The chicken salad was delicious! It had what seemed to be potato stix on top and corn mixed in, which I didn't love. This would've been one of my top picks, but the chocolate cake was just a little too dry and rich for my taste. 

Native American and Indigenous People’s Cohort

Jackie Heller

The Fry bread with honey tasted really good, but I was disappointed because there was supposed to Cherokee corn pone, a corn meal cake, served as well. While the Fry bread tasted good, the texture was too hard. 

Romanian Club at Ohio State

Jackie Heller

I was actually pretty excited to be trying Romanian food, but that excitement quickly faded after my first bite. I tried Mamaliga cu brinzea, which is corn meal and cheese porridge, and it truly did not agree with me. Some other people took a bite off my plate and liked it, but I couldn't get past the texture or the taste. Then I tasted Sarmale, pork cabbage rolls. They were pretty good but since the other half of the plate wasn't my favorite, this plate had to go. 

French Club

Jackie Heller

This was another plate that I was really excited to see on my list, but I was a little disappointed after tasting. First, I tried Tartiflette, cheesy potatoes with bacon, which I really couldn't complain about. Cheese, potatoes, AND bacon? I mean, it really couldn't get any better. And, it didn't. Everyone couldn't wait to hear about the crêpe, but after one bite I was already ready to move on to the next plate. It was very cold and only had strawberry filling, even though it was also supposed to have chocolate. I really couldn't get past the crêpe, so I couldn't really consider this plate to move to the next round. 

Latino Student Association

Jackie Heller

Everyone told me that Empanadas were always a fan favorite, but after trying it, they all said it was probably a bad batch. It was rock solid and lacked flavor, so I couldn't even take another bite. The Flan, caramel custard, was tasty and perfect for sharing with other people. Unfortunately, because of the Empanada situation this plate was at the bottom of my list.

Armenian Students Association

Jackie Heller

Next I tried Pasus dolma, bean and lentil stuffed cabbage leaves, with Jajik, garlic yogurt dip, served with pita bread. The cabbage leaves were pretty good, but didn't stand a chance against some of the previous cabbage dishes I tried. However, the garlic yogurt dip alone made me really consider sending this plate to Round Two. 

Italian Club

Jackie Heller

If I'm being completely honest, I got this plate first but I saved it until the end because I love Italian food. I first tried Caprese salad, tomatoes, mozzarella and basil drizzled with balsamic vinegar. It's pretty hard to mess up such a classic Italian dish. Then I tried the Cannoli which was filled with cream and chocolate chips. I tried eating it slowly because I wanted to make sure I was really savoring it, but it was pretty hard to resist just eating the whole thing in two bites. 

Round Two 

After going back to about half the dishes for a second taste, I finally decided which plates I was sending to the second round. The Italian Club and Ukrainian Club were the two contestants that I thought had the best flavor in both of the foods they prepared. There were no issues with either dish they each made which I couldn't say about most of the other clubs' plates. 

The judges for Round Two were Lesa Holford from Ohio State Dining Services, Jen O'Leary, the Director of Wine and Culinary for Northstar Café, and Sharon Schweitzer, the author of Access to Asia and a cross-cultural business expert. 

Round Two was slightly different because each of the six finalists sent a representative from their club to explain the dish they prepared. Many of them described how they made the food and the significance of the dish to their culture. I really enjoyed learning more about the six different dishes and the celebrations in which they are enjoyed. I also appreciated how the judges critiqued the food. They didn't just base the food on the three categories I was using, but they also thought about how hard the dishes were to make. This unfortunately knocked the Italian Club out of the competition. 

A Winner is Selected

The three judges were going back and forth between three of the plates they had in front of them. Finally, after some discussion and more tasting, they had a winner. The judges picked the Ukrainian Club to win the food contest! I was so thrilled because this was one of the plates I picked. I felt some validation in my own judging skills. 

Being a judge in Taste of OSU was such an amazing experience, and definitely one that I will not forget. I look forward to being able to take part in food contests in the future - especially if they require tasting ten different foods.