Published August 26, 2013
By Don Johnson
I had been looking forward to Saturday, August 17th 2013 for most of the year. The months of anticipation slowly turned into weeks of excitement turned into days of anxiousness turned into minutes away from frenzy. This day marked the 7th anniversary of the National Hamburger Festival at Lock 3 in downtown Akron. So special about this day was that a seat at the judges table awaited me.
I met with the festival's judge coordinator and my fellow judges. After the briefing and issuance of score sheets, we the judges, divied up the judging assignments. Out of the four categories; traditional hamburger, traditional cheeseburger, creative hamburger and creative sauces, I fell into judging the traditional and creative burger categories. Between these two, I knew that I would have only about 40 or so minutes to digest the traditional burgers before ingesting the creative burgers.
The anxiousness to judge was heightened as contestants brought forward their best, secreted away in Styrofoam boxes, to be moments later uniquely labeled by an event coordinator with only an identifying number. Once the judging began, it seemed a little like a birthday or Christmas. Everybody eagerly opened their present or reached into
each newly opened box that contained some type of hamburger concoction to share. I think our eagerness was driven by, the want to do the best we could to judge, followed by the fact that none of us had eaten breakfast that morning.
While judging the first round of burgers, the frenzy disappeared as I struggled to pace myself as the skipped breakfast topped by the sights, smells and tastes of burger after burger, rung the dinner bell hard. After carefully sampling about eight burgers, I think I ate about 2 lbs. of food within 10 minutes. Then came the 40 minute wait as others judged the traditional cheeseburger.
My turn at the table comes again. This time, about 24 creative burgers are passed out to judge. Each of these burgers is bigger than the traditional ones, topped with more ingredients and condiments to clearly separate themselves from the others. I had to take larger sample bites to capture all that each burger has to offer. If I hadn’t, I would have missed my first opportunity to taste the berries on one of the entries.
Part way through the creative round, several passerby’s commented about what a fun job it must be to judge the burgers. The fun came with being seated at the table. Fun quickly disappeared and turned into serious work as restaurants potentially gain important sales creating publicity and bragging rights. The judges’ payment; bloated stomachs, meat sweats and food stupor. Serving as a judge at the National Hamburger Festival does, however, have a comforting component. The comfort is knowing that this important event benefits Akron Children’s Hospital. For this, I would gladly open more Styrofoam boxes of “presents” in the future.