Friday, April 26, 2013

Thoughts on Cooking Competitions and Competitions in General

When there is a competition - no matter what kind of competition it is or where it is held - all the rules must be clearly spelled out without leaving out any details, especially those that are important. And all the competitions should be fair. There should be no disobeying the rules and there should be no cheating of any kind, otherwise it is unfair to other participants. It is better to lose a competition, if it so happens, and trying your best, than to lose a competition by cheating.

A while ago I was added to a cooking group on Facebook. In this group people share recipes and recipe photos with each other. The recipes don't have to be original. They can be those found online. I noticed that there are people who pass of someone else's recipes as theirs and that is not right. What they are doing is called plagiarizing or cheating and I don't understand why they would stoop so low and not say whose recipes they are and where they found them.  There is nothing wrong with re-creating someone else's recipes but you have to give credit to that person. Some don't bother with that and don't see anything wrong with it, just like they see nothing wrong with participating in a cooking competition by using recipes that are not theirs.

One of the great things about this cooking group is that members can participate in a weekly cooking competition. They have to create a dish using a secret ingredient that is chosen by the previous week's winner and email the final recipe photo along with name of the dish and its ingredients. Then admins of the group post all contest entries and members vote for their favorites by hitting the Like button. The dish with the most Likes wins. And it is only then that all the chefs' names are announced along with what their dish was and how many Likes they got. That's when we find out the winner and what the actual recipes are. The winner doesn't actually win anything but his/her recipe photo is displayed as the cover image for a week.

When I heard that this group has a cooking competition I was excited. I never participated in one and really wanted to give it a shot. The secret ingredient was eggplant. I pondered what to make and decided to do baked stuffed eggplant calling my dish baked eggplant boats, which I thought was creative. I sat and planned out what would go into the dish (without using a cookbook or Googling recipes online) and took my time preparing everything. After putting my heart and soul into the making of the dish I placed it in the oven and let it bake. When done I worked on the culinary presentation of the dish, taking my time and when I was happy with the end result I snapped a picture to send to the contest. Right after I emailed the photo I dived right into the dish and it was so good that when I was done I wanted seconds. I gave my parents the baked eggplant for dinner when they got home and they praised it too saying it was one of the best things they've ever ate. That made me really happy and I thought I had a real shot at winning the competition. Of course, taste doesn't matter in this competition as we can't taste the dishes in actuality. Still, I felt confident that I had a real shot at winning as the dish looked beautiful and tasted great too. 

I almost didn't take part in the competition. After sending the photo I waited for a reply from the admins of the group that the submission was received but it never came. I thought perhaps they don't reply to submission emails and let it go. A few days later, when it was about an hour left to submit the dishes, I decided to ask the admins if they received my email and they said NO. I couldn't believe it. They asked me to resend it again and when they still didn't find it I asked them to check SPAM and that's where my email went. Out of all the participants mine was the only one that went into spam. I have no idea why that happened. I was definitely not spamming anyone. Had I not contacted the admins I never would have been part of the competition, which would have been a big disappointment for me.

Even though everything was sorted out and I was part of that week's competition, in the end I was left with a huge disappointment because I didn't win. But what got me so down and also very upset wasn't the fact that I didn't win the competition. The issue was that the person that won entered the competition with a recipe she Googled online and later re-created (making very few minor changes) and she only revealed that the recipe was not hers when she won. Why didn't she do that when she entered? Or if she let the admins know the recipe wasn't hears why wasn't it revealed when contest started and voting began? To me using a recipe that's not yours in a contest is cheating even if a few minor adjustments to the recipe are made. I didn't participate in any more weekly competitions but saw this happen again when another winner (a different person this time) won with a recipe that was found online and again revealed only when the person won.

Apparently, people can enter the competition with dishes they Google online or find in cookbooks. How is that a competition? And how is that fair to those that actually take the time to come up with something creative and original. Saying that you spent lots of money on buying everything to re-create a Googled recipe or a cookbook one and that you spent many hours cooking it doesn't change the fact that that's cheating, wrong, and unfair to others that don't stoop so low. Even if a competition is not a "real" competition where a dish is actually tasted to determine the winner and where the winners are rewarded with an award or monetary prize, it should still be a fair one. Recipes should always be original. And I assumed that the competition would only accept original creations, hence what made me even more upset than I should have been. Had I known ahead of time (the rules didn't specify this) that the dishes don't have to be original I wouldn't have reacted so strongly. I still would have made an original dish by the way. 

I let the group know about what I thought about the competition and the rules, sharing with them my experience, and let them know they should specify in the rules that un-original recipes are allowed. I even suggested we award a winner similarly like it is done at school where a certificate is given to a student that excels at something. Doing this will motivate others to do their best and I let the group know that. Laying all this out in the open started a war within the group and I was attacked by many people.

Someone said I was the only one that thought entries into the contest had to be original and that if we were to go by my rule of allowing only original recipes I would be the only participant in the competition. She said no one has time to come up with original creations. Well, if they find the time to Google up recipes or search for them in cookbooks and if they find the time to go shop for those ingredients and then turn them into that dish then they can find the time to come up with something original to cook. It doesn't take hours to do that. And as far as time and money being wasted if the dish doesn't taste good, well no one in the competition can taste it anyway, so it shouldn't matter. Besides, you learn from your mistakes, and that's how you improve as a chef, so if you create something and it doesn't turn out good it is not a waste of time and money but a learning process. And I think no person in their right mind, unless the rules specified it, would assume competition entries could be un-original. That goes against what a competition should be.

Another person said that I am upset that I didn't win and am taking it out on others. I wasn't doing that. I was making a point that the competition is unfair the way that it's run. The winner said it is not right for me to say that her dish is unworthy of being in the competition just because it wasn't her original. As far as the award goes, the winner said that the piece of paper is not motivation. And she also told me (along with someone else) to start my own cooking group and cooking competition that would go by my rule of allowing only original recipes. Here is what I have to say to that...

As far as the award goes, clearly she doesn't know what she is talking about. If it wasn't motivation teachers wouldn't give them out to their students. Giving out an award to the winner (or for a job well done) is motivation because it gives that person something to strive for, it makes that person work harder knowing he/she will be rewarded in the end. It also gives that person confidence, makes that person feel he/she is capable of greatness.   

As far as saying her dish was unworthy of being in the competition, I never said such a thing and I hate when people put words in my mouth. And as far as being upset I didn't win and taking it out on others, I am proud to have come in 4th and I didn't take it out on anyone. I was making a point about the unfairness of the competition, even if it is a "real" one. Pairing original recipes with those Googled online or searched for in cookbooks is not a fair competition. And voting in itself is unfair as well. I understand that we can't really vote based on taste along with the presentation as we can't actually taste the dish, it being an online competition, but that still creates for an unfair competition especially if a person Googles up a recipe online, which could be from a top chef. Just because someone's dish looks the best it doesn't mean it tastes the best. So, someone who is not as creative or artistic presentation wise will never win a competition even though in reality his or her dish may taste better than those dishes that look like works of art. One person agreed with me on that point and said she stopped entering the competition because of it. And I am sure she isn't the only one. In that regard I think the competition voting should be changed to the best dish presentation and not the best recipe as we can't know what the recipe is unless we actually try the dish and are voting on presentation anyway.

After being attacked by many people for making a valid and fair point about the competition (that no one agreed with me on unfortunately), and after having one of my other dishes made fun of, saying it was hilarious and should be on a website that showcases dishes that don't look good and are made fun of, I left the group. I don't want to put up with this behavior. And all this for standing up and saying something that I felt had to be brought to light and discussed. A competition is a competition and it has to be fair regardless of the fact if there is a prize or not and how "real" it actually is.

It wasn't my intention to cause a war or to hurt anyone. And I don't feel that I hurt anyone, though some people feel that I did. I didn't say anything that was too grand or stupid either. 

I can't believe no one agreed with me on the competition allowing only original recipes or awarding the winners. I was even going to suggest we award second and third place as well. Goes to show that most of these people don't give a shit. Also, makes me think that they are not capable of coming up with original dishes hence why they don't want the competition to allow only original recipes. And now that I think about it people don't need to join this group to be introduced to recipes from Google. They can go to Google themselves and search for the recipes. And they don't need to see pictures of a cup of tea or coffee or of boiled potatoes either. Everyone knows how to do that.

While I may no longer be part of this cooking group I am not sad over it. I have my own cooking page with plenty of Likes and with people who seem to appreciate what I share with them. 

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