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A complete lack of taste

Posted: Sunday, March 09, 2003

From time to time, I am called upon to taste things and offer an opinion.

My opinion may not be highly regarded around here, but obviously the reading public values it. Last week, I was enlisted to be a judge.

I judged a water contest.

But more on that in a bit.

Usually the calls come from volunteer organizations asking that I judge chili contests. Did it once. Doubt I'll do it again. I've found that chili cooks are broken into two camps -- those who go for flavor and those who go for heat. Those in the "flavor" category are a minority and a dying breed.

Somehow, some way, this wonderful food has evolved into some sort of fraternity prank. A basic chili mixture is created and then the cook decides to dump in a dozen different chili peppers, a variety of chili powders, a few herbs used in ancient tribal masculinity rituals and a gallon of hot sauce to give it some zing.

Sorry folks, I need these taste buds for another day. Burning them out for your charity, no matter how worthy the cause, is too high a price to pay. And if you think my taste buds balk at the idea of eating this high-octane chili, you should feel the fuss my other body parts put up.

Judging isn't limited to this job. In a past life, I was the paper's pop music critic, and I would often be asked to judge country music talent contests.

The country contests were OK. People had (or thought they had) some singing talent. By agreeing to judge only the final round, I heard the best the area had to offer. For the most part, they proved to be entertaining evenings, a step above listening to karaoke, that's for sure.

Although I did have a rule. The promoter had to agree to let me judge the acts, turn in my final scores and leave before the winner was announced. There is no way I wanted to be in a country bar around midnight when the winner was announced. The last thing I needed was the 6-foot-7, 289-pound boyfriend of a not-so-inclined Patsy Cline to ask why I didn't think his girlfriend sang so good -- and would I like to have this discussion out in the parking lot?

That would have hurt more than anyone's three-alarm chili.

But back to the water.

The Florida Section of the American Water Works Association asked that I judge water samples from area municipalities. The winner will compete against other regional winners in Tallahassee later this month, when the water people have their turn lobbying politicians.

When it comes to water, I am hardly a connoisseur. I have no problem drinking it out of the tap. I've drunk from the hose many a time when doing yard work.

Here, I had three local samples. Having never judged water before, I asked if they had some Scotch to cleanse my palate after each sample. They offered crackers instead.

Each sample tasted like, well, water. They were clean and crisp. No funky odors or creepy crawlies were swimming around. I tried the wine tasting technique of swirling the water and that didn't help much. (I caught myself doing it after the second sample and felt like such a dolt.)

Anyway, I want my water as tasteless as possible, and I did detect a slight metallic flavor in two of the samples, so I chose the water provided by the St. Johns County Utility as the winner. But I am sure the representatives of the JEA and the Jacksonville Beach water companies think my opinion is all wet.

Dan Macdonald is a reporter for the Jacksonville Times-Union in Jacksonville, Fla.



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