I’d been hearing about it on twitter for ages, and then on Monday decided to actually look up what and when it was. Turned out it was the very next day and I didn’t think I could go, so I put it on my List for next year. However, late Tuesday afternoon my boyfriend said he could get out of his plans early, so we could try to get there for 8. And this is what we did.
Perhaps we didn’t get as much out of it as we could have because we arrived late, and I admit, ended up leaving before the end. By the time we arrived, the room in which the eggs were being cooked and plated up, and the room in which the judges were sat, were seething masses. It was clear that our chances of getting any of the eggs being cooked were slim-to-none. Everyone was crowded around the two areas where eggs were likely to be ‘gettable’ - the service counter, and the judges, meaning you couldn’t see much of either. The only people who seemed to be relaxed and had eggs that looked like they might even be going spare, were the people who had reserved tables – the PR, press and sponsors.
For everyone else it was a free-for-all.
|The crowd getting ready to pounce|
The challenge is between 20 or so (I think this year it was 22) chefs/establishments to create and make the best scotch eggs. Condiments and accoutrements are allowed but will not be judged. The merit of the egg is judged on the egg alone. I was able to see the judges’ scorecards and they had three categories – taste, texture and appearance. This might well have been explained at the beginning of the night, but as I said, we were late.
Each team gets 15 minutes in the kitchen which must be strictly adhered to. They are to cook 2 eggs for the judges and then 10 extra eggs for the throng. Each egg is cut into at least 4. That’s around 880 pieces of egg for the public. It should have been more than enough for the numbers that were there. It could almost have been ‘as many Scotch eggs as you can eat’. Unfortunately it was more like ‘no Scotch eggs for you, unless you’re standing by the counter, refusing to move even after you’ve had some, in which case you get as many as you like’.
I have been to a few things where free food is on offer. It makes me question society and humans as individuals. What is it about free food that makes people turn into hyenas squabbling over a morsel of carrion? Things got heated at the Shoreditch Literary Salon for free pizza, but last night was a whole new level. Platters would be practically snatched out of whichever unfortunate (or fortunate) it was first handed to. We saw not once, but twice, people stooping to the ground to pick up the scotch eggs that had landed there after everyone had assaulted the person with the platter so aggressively, it had been surrendered to the mob and fallen. Seriously people – eating off the ground?! And it’s not like these are deprived people. I would say most of the people there were squarely middle class to whom a posh scotch egg was probably pretty standard fare of an evening spent sipping craft beers. But it was free, and therefore civility went out the window. This will always be a problem when the system assumes people will take a share and then move on for people to get their go. People are greedy, and when the next offering is slightly different to the first, second, etc, they will want a piece of that too. The system falls down.
The best place I’ve been that offers free food was Are you Sitting Comfortably? which gives attendees free chip butties. You’re asked if you want one when you come in, and when you’re seated, one is brought to you. Supremely fair and well organised. Could something like this be done at the Scotch Egg Challenge? I think so. Instead of letting the eggs come out batch by batch, maybe they could keep them all behind and then, during the 20 minute break, set up the 400-plus portions of scotch eggs on a table, buffet style. I think people’s queuing instincts would kick in and they would be far less inclined to take more than one or two quarters when everyone can see them, and when everyone is reassured that most people will get some. This could then be done towards the end of the evening as well for the remaining 440 portions. Or even saving up three or four batches at a time and having people mill through the crowd with them would avoid the bottle-necking and savage lunging.
This would also mean that people actually concentrated on the judging, rather than anxiously looking around, distracted by worrying they are missing out on the free stuff. Because isn’t the judging what it is supposed to be about? Before I even got there I had resigned myself to likely not getting any egg (and I didn’t) but I hoped to enjoy the competition.
Even this was a bit of a letdown. The judges were sitting down, barely visible amongst the standing observers. After each egg, they didn’t even really comment on it (unless the compere happened to ask one of them a direct question). They just quietly wrote down their scores on their own piece of paper. Unless you were standing right by them, you didn’t know what that score was. It would have been nice if the judges had a bit of a raised dias to eat on, and for their scores to be projected, or at least called out so that there was more focus on this. Behind the judges there was a screen so people watching the judging could still see what was going on in the kitchen, but I think that, if you made more of the judging (I hate to condone X Factor, but a bit more like that), then it should be the other way around.
The eggs are judged ‘blind’ so that the judges can’t favour a particular chef or restaurant, which is kind of a shame for the rest of us as you don’t know who you’re watching in action. But they are told what each egg is made with. I wanted to take a picture of the scorecard to remember all the different types but my camera battery let me down. Some of them sounded amazing, and the one egg we managed to get a good glimpse of looked amazing too. This was created with truffled ham, chips, duck egg and more truffled something. It looked amazing when it was cut into as well. I NEED to find out who made that egg! Presumably all is revealed at the end of the night, when the trophies are presented but for Stephen really took against the evening and demanded we leave early. If I find out that the end of the night turned into some kind of free egg orgy I shall be sorely disappointed. But please do tell me if it did, as all will be forgiven and I will be sure to go next year!
On a positive note, the Ship seemed like a lovely pub, with a barbie going full swing in the vast beer garden. Definitely a place to bear in mind for whenever summer graces us again. And Oliver Peyton was there, which can never be a bad thing.