Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/3/2019 (912 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I got some excellent advice from my parents when I was a kid — if you don’t know what it is, don’t stuff it in your mouth!
Unfortunately, that nutritional tip goes out the window every year when I park myself in front of a large crowd of onlookers at The Forks and stuff my face as one of the "expert judges" at the Great Manitoba Food Fight.
Last Saturday marked the 11th consecutive year I have been on the judging panel for this early spring battle, wherein teams of budding food scientists and nutritionists from the University of Manitoba duke it out to see who has created the tastiest and most marketable new food product.
The way it works is seven teams of students pitch their state-of-the-art food items and provide tasting samples to the judging panel, consisting of my pal Judy Wilson, a marketing expert; photographer and Churchill adventure tour guide Dave Shambrock, executive director of Food & Beverage Manitoba; and me, an overweight newspaper columnist who tends to get more food on the front of his shirt than in his mouth.
Like every year, we judges didn’t have time for breakfast before showing up at The Forks, which is why, when one of the student teams marched past toting a tray of what appeared to be fresh cinnamon buns, our drool glands kicked into hyperdrive.
Staring at these buns with laser-like intensity, Judge Dave roared: "That’s the winner right there! I’d kill for one of them right now."
Fortunately, no one was killed and we were able to take our seats and begin the complex judging process.
The first thing we sampled was a product called "KooGhees," a tasty low-carb, sugar-free chocolate chip cookie made from almond and coconut flour, ghee (clarified butter), and sweetened with Stevia.
"We wanted to provide people following a ketogenic diet with a cookie they can enjoy," one of the students explained. "Whether you’re following a ketogenic diet or not, we hope you enjoy our KooGhees."
From what I partially understood, a ketogenic diet is one that gets your body to burn fat as opposed to carbs. The thing I liked best about these cookies was the fact that, with a little pressure, they turned into a gooey kind of dust in your hand.
Next, we tried "Tvorog," which is essentially the Russian version of cottage cheese, which I have tried to avoid for most of my time on this planet. What I enjoyed was looking at the students and bellowing: "It sounds like a caveman comic-book hero. I AM TVOROG! TVOROG LIKE TO SMASH COOKIE!"
No one seemed to find that overly amusing, but perhaps my delivery was too subtle. We quickly moved on to "Nanny’s Sourdough Cinnamon Buns with Dates," which, if you remember the beginning of this column, was the product that had our drool glands working overtime before the contest began.
These students had hit on the genius idea of taking a traditional comfort food and, by adding Chinese dates and probiotic yogurt icing, making them healthier for people who crave gooey baked goods in the morning.
"Cinnamon buns are typically flavored with brown sugar, but we filled them with Chinese dates that added flavour and cut down on the brown sugar," one student explained. "Normally, when I eat cinnamon buns, I have to take a nap because it’s too heavy. These are lighter.
"They’re named after my nanny because she helped me come up with the idea for it. It was her idea to do the probiotic yogurt icing. It will improve your gut health."
Arguably the oddest-looking thing we tried was "Fru-cuit," a pureed blend of two fruits that is freeze-dried and formed into what appear to be tiny, Day-Glo blocks of fruity goodness. "It’s a combination of two kinds of fruit," one student said. "It tastes just like a biscuit. It’s crispy and crunchy. It’s not just a health product; it’s also a snack."
In the end, it was the most difficult decision we judges have faced in the past 11 years.
We finally gave the crown to Win-Pea Snack Food’s dry-roasted chickpeas, because they were kind of a healthier version of one of the greatest snacks of all time — Doritos.
"Our product is unique because there are currently no nacho-flavoured chickpeas on the market," the students boasted. "We wanted to provide a healthier alternative to our favourite snack, Doritos. Our goal was to be healthy without compromising taste."
For the record, we judges could not stop stuffing these crunchy, spicy peas into our mouths. "I have two 23-year-olds and all they want is Doritos," declared Judge Judy. "I commend your flavour choice. It’s tasty and it’s high in protein."
Judge Dave said the nacho peas were the most market-ready item we tasted. "It was the one product that could be manufactured in large scale today and be in the market this afternoon," he said. "All the others needed tweaking. It was a really interesting flavour."
Students Nicole Ellis, 24, and Ming Li, 27, were both thrilled and surprised.
"I wanted something that I’m familiar with, " Ellis told me. "I mean, who doesn’t love Doritos? I love Doritos! I wanted to make something that tasted like Doritos, but isn’t. And they’d be great as a salad topper, as the crunch."
I realize you might have selected a different winner, but we wanted to give peas a chance. And it was nacho decision anyway.
Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.