Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Faisca do Brasil

Rob in the back of the Dakota.

Lately, after a recent disappointing experience at Fogo de Chao, I haven't been one to opt for Brazilian churrascaria, but when Paola and Diego said they wanted to take us to the one at the Inter-Continental, I thought I'd give it a try once more. And I'm glad I did.

Unlike the Fogo de Chao in Baltimore, Faisca do Brasil is actually pretty darn good. An extensive "salad bar" filled with sushi, raw fish, veggies, fruit, starches and an array of ceviche - already it was off to a good start, even though we had spent waiting over an hour for our 8pm reservation. Evidently, reservations mean mierda in Salvador - even if you have a group of eight and a reservation at a storied hotel.

Rob, Paola and Francisco getting hungry.

By the time we sat at the table, we were starving. No need to debate on whether to turn the card over or not - it was "green" all the way baby! And keep it coming!

While Diego advocated the grilled pineapple (stellar) and Paola pushed for the extrana (fatty, juicy and flavorful skirt steak), I found the combination of the extrana and the fresh water lobster to be the winner. Succulent and explosive flavored steak and the delicate tenderness of the lobster tail. If only I had a bowl of white rice, no meal could have been finer!

A first round of eats.

Paola and the grilled pineapple.

Rob and Francisco mid-meal.

Camilo keeping up his own end.

Beating Up Judges, Estilo de Salvadoreno!

Buenos Dias, Children! And welcome to Hell!!!

I've been involved with training national judges in some form or another since I started judging in 2007. First in Ethiopia, then in Mexico, Central America, South America and then full-circle this season back to Africa when I was recruited to be the head judge for Uganda and in charge of everything.

Working with people really is what I enjoy the most. It's difficult, challenging, frustrating and ultimately, very rewarding. Since most of my judging work is within the "underdog" countries - those nations who's champions aren't the media darlings of the barista world for a variety of reasons.

Senor Tuttle talks the Science.

Since the beginning, the World Barista Championship has been dominated by the, well, "White Countries". Those nations with a predominantly white populace and Western disposition: Norway, Australia, UK and now, the United States. Other nations have come close (Guatemala, 2nd place 2010) but still no cigar.

What's exciting for me is working in these barista developing nations and seeing their coffee culture develop and prosper. Maybe we can help nudge their coffee programs and championships to the World Crown, and that would be very exciting indeed.

In fact, it was actually more exciting to see Guatemala capture 2nd place than the actual champion - no offense, Mike.

We judge together. We eat together.

Once again, competition is in full swing and I'm back in Central America doing my thing - although this time it's without the safety net that has been Roukiat Delrue, Scott Conary, Brent Fortune, Jose Arreola or John Sanders. Working as a junior judge to them meant that I could kinda cruise along in the background, comfortable that all the Ts have been crossed and all the Is dotted. Like in Africa, a couple months ago, if those items aren't crossed or dotted it's because of my mockup and no one else's. The pressure is pretty intense.

Unlike Africa, where I was a solo performance, I've got some backup here in El Salvador: Camilo Galvis, whom I worked with judging Colombia back in October, Francisco Palarea, that wild and crazy BMW driving magazine publisher from Guatemala and the astute and experienced USBC judge Rob Tuttle from Atlanta.

Pollo a la Parilla.

Rob is working alongside me as the other Head Judge for the event. It's good to have him along because his near-exclusive USBC/WBC experience means that he's seen some of the most advanced and cutting edge barista presentations on the planet, which will give greater depth and breadth to our training and judging for the event.

As with other places I've judged, the candidates here in San Salvador are interested and passionate about coffee. They want to know more and we want to engage them, push then and challenge them. The difficult part is that we're here to push everyone to the world level. Meaning that when our teams of judges give a score of "5" to a competitor in El Salvador, that "5" is equivalent to a "5" in the WBC. It does absolutely no good for anyone if a "5" in El Salvador (or any nation) translates into a "2" at the WBC.

Judges ready to pounce!

So, with the generous support of the Consejo, we push, prod, bully, intimidate and do whatever we can to help our field of judges learn, and more importuntly, understand just what are the differences between a "2" and a "5" or even what it takes to earn a "6" - which, for the uninitiated is "extraordinary" and the highest score a judge can give a competitor.

I think it's safe to say that every judge I know has experienced this, but we try to remind our team that there are no rewards for being the "toughest" judge on the panel. Record what you see and award points accordingly. Reward the barista competitor as much as you can, don't penalize them.

It's going to be a fun week!

Sensory tasting - you'd better know your palate.

Tipico Salvadoreno - grilled beef.

Being tested: Mauricio, Anny and Claudia.

Guest barista Delmy makes espresso.

Demly, on load from Viva Espresso, making small talk.

Final evaluations.

Examen Salvadoreno

The judge candidates begin their written journey.