The Scarlet Apron, a new cooking competition, will held for the first time this weekend at Æthelmearc War Practice, May 21. Open to all levels of cooks, the theme is Illusion Food. See the competition guidelines here.
Anyone wishing to participate must create an example of such a food from anywhere in the SCA’s period of study. This could be an interpretation of a subtlety that has been described in a cooking text, or an original creation that can be considered “period-plausible” based on its design, construction, and the materials used to create it.
Competition coordinator Edelvrouw Lijsbet de Keukere shared the following frequently asked questions with The Æthelmearc Gazette, and also talked to Food Editor Baroness Katja (Chris Adler-France) about cooking competitions in Æthelmearc:
1) To whom is the Scarlet Apron open?
Anyone and everyone who has a passion for cooking, or even just for challenging themselves, may enter. This competition is open to gentles of all skill levels, whether you have not yet received a Sycamore, or you have long since been named a Laurel.
2) How will the competition be judged?
There will be three categories, each judged differently:
- The Scarlet Apron Champion title will be awarded based on the assessment of our judges. This is determined by how your work is scored according to a rubric. The judging will take place between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on Saturday.
- Populace Choice will be awarded to the individual (or small team) who collects the most votes from members of the populace. Each person who comes into the Great Hall to browse the entries will receive a bean, which they may use to vote for their favorite entry. The piece with the most beans at the end of the voting period will win the Populace Choice title. The competition will be open to populace voting from 11:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.
- Youth Champion will be awarded to the entrant entered in the youth category based on the rubric scores give to them by their judges. The youth category will be judged by members of the populace between a.m. and 3:00 p.m.
3) Do I have to choose which category I want to be judged within?
No. All adult entrants are automatically eligible for both the Scarlet Apron Champion and the Populace Choice. Youth entries are automatically eligible for all three categories: the Scarlet Apron Champion, Populace Choice, and Youth Champion.
4) Can I enter as part of a team?
Yes. You may enter the competition as an individual, or as a small team of two to three people. Please make sure that everyone’s names are included in the registration form, and that each person’s tasks and responsibilities are described in your write-up.
5) I’m not great at writing documentation. Will that affect my ability to
It shouldn’t! We know that writing is not everyone’s strong suit, especially when it comes to academic writing. We will provide a brief questionnaire at the check-in table that will suffice as your documentation for your entry. If you would prefer to print it out and complete it ahead of time, you may email Edelvrouw Lijsbet at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a PDF of the questionnaire instead.
All entrants are encouraged to provide a short photo diary of their piece. Pictures should include any extant pieces that inspired the finished product and/or the production process, as well as any photos of the actual entry piece being made (progress photos). These will be especially helpful for entries that do not include a whole lot of written documentation. Don’t forget to describe what each photo is!
Your other option is to sit with your entry all day so the judges may have an opportunity to ask you questions about your work. You will need to be present from 11:00 a.m. through 3:00 p.m., or until all of the judges have reported in.
6) Do I need to be present in order to be judged or be declared a winner?
Absolutely not. Your documentation (written piece/questionnaire and your progress photos) should be selected to anticipate many of the judges’ questions. Likewise, you do not need to be present in order to be declared a winner. If you cannot stay to collect your prize, you will be contacted to arrange a pick-up or delivery.
7) I’m nervous about the rubric. Can I see it ahead of time?
Absolutely! It is only fair to know how you will be assessed ahead of time. To request a copy of the rubric that the Scarlet Apron judges will be using, please email Lijsbet.
8) Who are the judges?
This year’s judges have been hand selected from the very best of the Kingdom’s cooks and range from Sycamores to Laurels. All of them have a wealth of experience in the SCA kitchen and a wide breadth of knowledge of medieval cooking and presentation methods.
9) Does my illusion food/sotelty need to be sweet or a dessert?
No! Many period sotelties were created out of meats, breads, and other savory dishes. Entrants are encouraged to work in whatever edible medium with which they are comfortable.
10) Will the entries be judged on taste as well as appearance?
We understand that some illusion foods/sotelties in period were meant to be consumed by dinner guests, while others were merely meant to serve as an artistic discussion piece. If your entry would have been consumed in period (for example, a formed pie), then the judges will be assessing the taste. If it was only meant to be an artistic piece, then it will not. Non-edible entries (that is, illusion foods/sotelties that would not have been consumed in period practice) will not experience a penalty in points.
Entrants who provide an edible piece should provide their own napkins, paper plates, plastic cutlery, etc. for the judges to use.
11) When and where should I bring my entry to be judged?
The registration table will be open in the Great Hall beginning at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. Beginning then, you may bring your entry piece and begin setting it up on your assigned table space. The Scarlet Apron Champion judging will take place between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. that day, while the Populace Choice judging may continue until 4:00 p.m.
12) When will I need to collect my entry at the end of the competition?
You may collect your entry beginning at 4:00 p.m.. It must be removed from the Great Hall in time to set up for Court.
13) When will the winners be announced?
All winners will be announced and prizes awarded in Court on Saturday evening.
14) I really want to enter! But I don’t know where to begin! Is there
somewhere online I can go to view examples of illusion food/sotelties?
Yes! Edelvrouw Lijsbet has created a Pinterest board that is full of examples of both modern food art and recreations of medieval sotelties to get your creative juices flowing. The board can be found here:
15) Will I need to prepare my entry on site?
No. The competition is only for your finished product. If you need to prepare your entry close to the judging/presentation period, you may do so in your own encampment or at home. The competition will not be providing space in which you may cook or otherwise prepare your entry. There will be no additional benefit to preparing your entry on site versus bringing it from home.
16) What kind of illusion food/sotelty should I plan to make?
You may make any kind of illusion food/sotelty you wish, as long as it remains within “period plausibility.” That means you do not need to create an exact interpretation of a sotelty described in an extant cooking text (though you are encouraged to do so!), but the image/scene it depicts must be one from within SCA period. You are also encouraged to use period-appropriate materials and construction techniques. Doing so will improve your rubric score.
17) Do I need to pre-register?
No. Currently, there is no registration form available online with which to pre-register for this competition. However, if you are planning on entering, please email Lijsbet
to ensure we have enough table space!
18) How much room will I have to set up my entry?
You will have no less than half of one six-foot-long picnic table. Depending on how many entrants we have on the day of the competition, this may be expanded to allow for a full table space per entrant. Be prepared for at least three feet of table space, and if you are able to expand to six feet, you may be able to do so. You will not be penalized if you have the opportunity to use the full six feet but only use a portion of it.
19) Will I need to dress my table space?
It is not required, but strongly encouraged. Because this is, for all intents and purposes, a show piece, presentation is key to your display. You should plan on providing as much ambience as you can to set the scene for your entry piece. This may include table linens, dishes, floral, or other artistic arrangements, candles, or anything else that may add to the spectacle of your piece.
20) Will any table dressings be available on the day of the competition?
We will have a limited supply of basic, plastic picnic tablecloths available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you need one, you may request one when you arrive to register in the morning on the day of the competition. No advance requests will be accepted.
21) I cannot make it to War Practice, but I would still like to submit an
entry. Can someone else bring and set up my piece on my behalf?
Yes! Please just make sure all of the components for judging are included, and that the person bringing your entry puts YOUR name and contact information on the registration sheet.
22) Does my entry need to be period?
Your score will certainly increase if you base your entry on a period sotelty and/or use period materials and construction techniques.
However, the only REQUIREMENT is that your entry be “period-plausible,” dealing with
SCA-period subject matter. In other words, it should depict a medieval scene or subject (like a scene out of a period manuscript, something out of a period story like Le Morte d’Arthur, or even a medieval depiction of an animal or article of clothing). If you cannot use all period materials/construction techniques to create this, explain why in your documentation questionnaire.
Interview with Lijsbet
Q: Last fall, you ran the Cast Iron Chef cooking competition at A Shoote in the Wildwood, where four teams cooked period-inspired dishes on site in a couple of hours, much like Chopped and other cooking competition television shows.
The Scarlet Apron, however, is closer to the Wooden Pin and other display competitions where cooks bring an already prepared dish to be judged. How do you choose which kind of competition will work for a given event?
A: A lot of factors were considered when coming up with the format of each of these very different cooking competitions. When I was asked to revive the cooking competition held at previous Æthelmearc War Practices (then called the Wooden Pin) I did consider something similar to Cast Iron Chef, where the contestants cook on site. Ultimately, I decided to make this one closer to the original Wooden Pin format for a few reasons.
First, I was the head cook for Crown Tournament, which was being held in my barony of Delftwood only two weeks before the competition. I knew I would, personally, not be able to maintain enough momentum to promote and run a cooking event that required the kind of time and preparation that Cast Iron Chef has.
Second, I know that Æthelmearc War Practice is an event many people attend for the purpose of attending Order meetings, getting together with their far-away Friends, and spending as much time on the battlefield or taking classes as possible. It’s a really busy time! I recognized that people who may be interested in entering the competition may have other obligations, or just other things they wanted to do, rather than take up a whole day to participate in one activity. At A Shoote in the Wildwood — Delftwood’s archery event that takes place over Labor Day Weekend — we were looking for a large-scale event to encourage people to stay on site for the whole weekend. Usually, most of the major archery competitions were finished on Saturday, and Sunday attendance was significantly lower. By creating an all-day cooking competition on Sunday, we boosted our attendance numbers, while providing something fun for those who are not archers to participate in!
So I guess the TL;DR version is, I try to assess what I think would be fun for people to participate in, what other things are happening at the event, and how much time I am personally able to commit to the planning and execution of the competition in order to decide its format.
Q: You’ve also coordinated some event and cooks guild food challenges in Delftwood, such as asking gentles to bring items made with honey to Mistress Othindisa’s Laurelling (who was inducted for her knowledge of period beekeeping). What advice would you give to local groups to hold their own cooking challenges at their events, social meetings, or cook guild sessions?
A: I’m always looking for ways to stretch my culinary muscle and challenge myself. Sometimes preparing a feast with a limited budget does not allow me to do this, and I’m the kind of person who needs a reason (meaning an event or prescribed activity) to motivate myself. I figured I’m not the only one in the SCA who feels like this, so I began thinking about what I would have fun doing at events that was not necessarily preparing a feast, but still allowed me to interact with other cooks, share knowledge, learn a bunch, and have fun while doing it. The idea of competitions or discussion sessions at which food was the main attraction seemed to be a great solution to the challenge of bringing all of these things together.
In terms of challenges taking place at events – promote, promote, promote! I tend to get a bit zealous when hosting any kind of event or program within an event, so I’m going to take this moment to apologize to anyone on my Facebook friends list who also subscribes to all of the other historical cooking groups and local SCA groups that I do, because I tend to post announcements to them all for the widest reach possible, which means they get about 15 notifications at once all saying the same thing!
When it comes to creating activities for local meetings, I recommend creating specific challenges. When the Delftwood cooks’ guild meets, it is to discuss or present the results of a specific request, usually decided upon at the previous month’s meeting. For example, some of the topics we have covered have included: Vegetarian entree options that are NOT pies; Cook Thine Enemy, for which you must determine which culture or people your persona was fighting against during your chosen period of study, and cook a dish that they would have eaten; Sauces and Condiments; Illusion Food; Seasonal and Regional – food your persona would have eaten at that particular time of year in their particular region; and Outdoor Picnic foods. At each meeting, I usually solicit suggestions for challenges from those who are present, and then we agree on which one we want to use for our next meeting, while the rest are recorded for use at a later date.
Lately, however, our schedules have gotten a bit busier than usual, and the format of issuing a challenge, then cooking the dish to discuss with the group has gotten a bit stale. In order to give our cooks a bit of a break, and to encourage and welcome the new people who have recently come to Delftwood with an interest to food and cooking, we have initiated a series of classes on Medieval Gastronomy. For these classes, one person volunteers to lead a small team (or some choose to work by themselves) to research the cuisine of a specific culture within the SCA range of study. They create a presentation that discusses the ingredients, flavor qualities, and cooking techniques that are indicative of that culture, and cook samples of dishes that best illustrate these points (because, let’s face it, you can’t really talk about the flavors and qualities of food without tasting it, right?). So we have had small groups of people present their findings on the food culture and flavors from 13th to 15th century England and France, ancient Rome, and medieval Japan.
Our next class is coming up on June 2, at which Meisterin Felicity will be teaching us all about Medieval German gastronomy! I have found these classes to be helpful for our new SCA participants to learn what they should expect from medieval food and SCA feasts. It is also a great way to encourage new people to get their hands dirty in the kitchen (and wash them after!). In fact, one of our newest members cooked her very first medieval recipe, AND presented her very first A&S class through one of these classes, and she has been challenging herself in the kitchen ever since!
So I guess, be open to variety – try to include topics for those who are timidly dipping a toe in the water, as well as for those who are comfortable on the high dive. The future of SCA cooking depends on those of us who have a passion for food encouraging the next generation, and helping them find their footing. These casual meetings are a great way to do it!
Q: What are the logistics/needs for each kind of competition? For example, for the Cast Iron challenge, your barony’s populace donated the food stuffs for the pantry from which the entrants cooked.
A: It really depends on the challenge issued. Like I mentioned earlier, I did originally want to do something similar to Cast Iron Chef at War Practice. That would have required me to begin soliciting food donations and promoting the competition MUCH earlier than I knew I realistically had time for, considering my timeline for Crown Tournament prep (paired with the fact that, mundanely, my husband and I were moving from our apartment of 10 years into our first house exactly one month before Crown). This year’s Scarlet Apron was intentionally planned because I knew that I could not live up to the high standards I have for how I would like to see this competition go off, so I planned accordingly.
In addition, Cast Iron Chef was something special last year, and we in Delftwood would like to see it grow. If both Cast Iron Chef and the Scarlet Apron are to last, they must be in different formats, as not to burn out or bore our cooks, many of whom may take part in both competitions! Variety is the spice of life, after all!
Q; Four teams entered the Cast Iron challenge, which was at a smaller local event and was an on-site cooking challenge. How many entrants do you hope to attract to the Scarlet Apron challenge at War Practice, which is a larger event and requires entrants to bring a finished piece?
A: Well, I am hoping to see both competitions grow! It warms my heart to see people get creative and passionate about food. I have noticed that the art of historical cooking has tended to fall into the lap of whoever is in charge of cooking dayboard or feast for events, but does not usually get a place outside of these job duties at most SCA events. This is my attempt to bring the Culinary Arts into the spotlight, and allow our cooks to really show off what they can do!
With that in mind, I hope to see lots of people entering the Scarlet Apron this year! I am prepared for 20 individual people, which includes those working independently and in small teams. Everyone who participates will receive a token so they can brag that they rose to the challenge issued! Of course, I would be ecstatic to see more than that participate, but I know that the first year of a new activity can be a little tricky to get off the ground sometimes (hence why I inundate social media and mailing lists to promote these types of things).
Still, the idea is to encourage the cooks of the kingdom to join in – each year that the Scarlet Apron is held, there will be a new medallion to collect, similar to how Pennsic medallion art changes every year, and have become collector’s items for some people. It is my hope that we will all be Ooooo-ing and Aaaaaah-ing at the participants’ achievements and shiny new flare items for years to come!
Q: What are your future cooking competition goals?
A: I just want to continue to promote historical, researched cooking as much as I can while having fun! I am hoping that both the Scarlet Apron and Cast Iron Chef become a “thing,” for their respective events, and I have some ideas on how to do that.
Cast Iron Chef, for example, will remain an on-site cooking tournament; however, the format may change from time to time. This year, in order to keep within our archery event theme, we will be asking the cooks to team up with an archer for a special shoot. The archer will have targets of images of food. While all the cooks will have access to a “peasant’s pantry,” of basic staple foods like grains, common spices, and basic garden vegetation, the archers will be trying to acquire the cooks access to more “premium” items like dairy and animal protein. Whatever the archer is able to shoot with his or her arrow is what the cook will be allowed to use for their recipe. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this plays out!
As for the Scarlet Apron, I would love to see this blossom into a well-regarded, kingdom-level activity. War Practice tends to be one of those events attended by a more diverse group of SCAdians. Most of the time, a local group’s event will only attract local, or mostly local people. War Practice gives cooks from all over AEthelmearc to connect, meet, and interact with each other. I am hoping that, over the next few years, cooks of all experience levels see the Scarlet Apron as an opportunity to network and make new friends, and allow this competition to grow in such a way that we all become better – and more fearless – cooks for it.
Q: Anything else you want to add?
A: One of the other things I would love to see happen in the Scarlet Apron is more Youth participation. I am a big fan of SCA children participating in relevant activities alongside the adults when it is appropriate to do so. I love it when I see kids helping in the kitchen – in fact, Meisterin Felicity’s children, Fela (who is nine) and Frytz (who is almost five), were a HUGE help in forming all 200 homemade pretzels that were served at Crown Tournament. I know that if I were a young child in the SCA, I would much prefer to do the stuff the adults were doing, because, to me, that is what the SCA is. (NB: Please understand that I am NOT criticizing the separate kids’ activities hosted at events at all. Many children prefer to do these kinds of crafts or games, and that, too, is awesome!)
I am hoping to see some Youth entries, to demonstrate their talent to the kingdom, to let them know that their contributions are worthy of recognition, and to encourage those kids interested in learning about food and cooking to take a leap of faith! Ideally, I would like to have young members of our populace also act as judges for the Youth entries, however I do not yet have many volunteers – I will be reaching out to the kingdom shortly to put feelers out for this. In the meantime, I am hopeful that we will see at least one entry by someone who falls into our Youth category!
Finally, I would like to encourage everyone attending War Practice to come by the Great Hall any time between 11 and 4 to look at the amazingly creative talent of our kingdom’s cooks. And while you are there, please pick up a token from the check-in table to vote for your favorite – whichever entrant receives the most tokens will win a prize for being the Populace’s Choice winner!
I am very excited about the Scarlet Apron’s inaugural year, and hope that everyone has fun creating and viewing the entries that will be on display!