Would you wear a crown of biscuits and a biscuit necklace? Would you dress in a banana costume to get people to eat your banana-glazed biscuits?
Would you wade through crowds to watch Allan Benton, the king of high-class bacon, frying country ham on the street while thousands of people elbow for a country ham biscuit?
And most of all: Would you travel hundreds of miles, from as far as Raleigh and Texas, to stand in a 94-degree festival tent and make biscuits in front of judges?
I was in Knoxville to attend the Southern Food Writing Conference, held in Knoxville every year at the same time as the International Biscuit Festival. Knoxville, once the home of White Lily flour, is a place that takes its biscuits so seriously, one of its main downtown streets, Market Street, is also renamed Biscuit Boulevard every year.
And of course, my tasks also included being asked to be a judge for the Southern Biscuit Flour Biscuit Baking Contest.
Assigned to the savory category, along with fellow judge and Charlotte food writer Heidi Billotto, I first worked up an appetite by taking a stroll around the festival. Yes, there was the maximum amount of biscuit cutting-up: The Biscuit Queen strolled the crowd, Biscuit Crown on her head and Spoon Sceptor in hand.
Local chefs had turned out with everything from banana-glazed biscuits to pastrami biscuits. There was a booth full of jams and biscuit toppings made by the famous Inn at Blackberry Farms, right next to the booth where Benton was standing over an extra-large sizzling cast iron skillet.
Stepping in to “The Biscuit Big Top,” the big white tent where the competition was held, I watched Billotto do a cooking demonstration, showing how her Next-Day Blue Cheese Biscuits With Pistachios could be heated up on a grill or griddle. Between the rounds, the Biscuit Queen and King led the crowd in contests to come up biscuit-itized lyrics to songs (“The Gambler” worked well: You’ve got to know when to hold them and when to fold them, after all).
Finally, Billotto and I took our places to judge the savory category (there are also sweet, student and special categories.) We were given our “biscuit names” (Hazel Buttermilk for Heidi, Butterkins Prickly for me) and our instructions: Judge the three entries on taste and looks, with a scale from 1 (Bless Your Heart) to 10 (Gooder Than Grandma’s).
The contestants had come from as far as Texas. Felice Bogus, a blogger from Raleigh, really surprised me: We follow each other on Facebook and Twitter, but I didn’t know she’s a competition nut who travels all over to enter food competitions. This was her first biscuit contest, though. She made muffin-shaped biscuits that hid a cheesy filling of Buffalo Chicken.
The other entries: Jalapeno and Cheddar Cornmeal Biscuit Ham Sandwiches, and Sweet Potato Candied Bacon Biscuits. The winner of our category was Connor Mathis, the manager of Cakehead Bakeshop in Spartanburg, with those Sweet Potato Candied Bacon Biscuits, which had the perfect fluffy interior and crispy crust.
The grand champion for the whole contest: Kimberly Asbury with Alabama Scotch Egg Biscuits. I saw pictures, but had already finished my category and ducked out for one more food stop before heading back to Charlotte, having done my duty by biscuits.