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Sunnyside couple serves as judges at World Food Championships

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Sunnyside's Melba Fujiura takes a moment to pose with three Elvis look-alikes at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas, staged two weeks ago. Mrs. Fujiura served as a judge in the opening round of the Recipe Championship.

Ray Fujiura of Sunnyside found an interest in competitive barbecuing several years ago.

After a couple rounds of competing, he wanted to know what the judges were looking for. He and his wife Melba found a judging class sponsored by the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association, took the class and passed the test.

They have traveled to various competitions during the summer for the last four years.

This past spring, at the Skewered Apple competition in Yakima, a fellow judge mentioned there was going to be a huge competition in Las Vegas in November. That evening the Fujiura's applied to be judges for the World Food Championships. Several weeks later the Fujiura's found that they had been accepted as judges for the Las Vegas competition.

The World Food Championships was held Nov. 1-4 in Las Vegas. The host was Adam Richman...author, culinary expert and star of Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food: Nation." The contestants were winners of various competitions across the country. The categories included World Barbecue Championship, World Open Chili Championship, World Burger Championship, World Recipe Championship, World Championship, World Side-Dish, World Chef Challenge and the Final Table.

Several teams from the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association were there, showing the world there's good food that comes from this region, as well.

Hundreds of volunteers wearing yellow t-shirts with the phrase 'Will Work for Food' swarmed the grounds of Bally's Casino. The judges were given 'The Ultimate Food Fight' t-shirts to identify themselves.

Celebrities included Barbara Fairchild (former Editor-in-Chief of "Bon Appetit"), Myron Mixon (star of "BBQ Pitmasters"), Nadia G (host of "Nadia G's Bitchin' Kitchen"), Rick McMillen (Publisher and Editor of "Chili Pepper" magazine) and many others.

Seventy-five teams vied for honors in the top BBQ contests. Ninety judges were required for the BBQ portion.

Friday's contest was pork shoulder and sauce.

"When they opened the first box of barbecued pork, I knew we were in for a treat." Melba Fujiura said.

"The level of competition was so high, and so delicious and tender, the scores reflected that," she said.

Her husband noted all the sauces were different, "...but all of them were great," Ray commented.

Saturday's meats were ribs and briskets. "The ribs were almost perfectly uniform in each box, and the tastes were great," Ray said.

Most cooks say brisket is the most difficult meat to cook. Some of the cooks proved that, other teams came up with flavorful, tender meat.

The Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned the event. Most judges did double duty, judging several contests. Mrs. Fujiura judged the first round of the Recipe Contest Friday, consisting of just about any dish one can think of, as long as there was a written recipe. That included everything from pizza to lobster to cupcakes.

Mr. Fujiura judged the open Chili Contest on Saturday. He claimed none of them were too spicy for his taste.

Between rounds of judging the Fujiura's had the opportunity to chat with people about their food passions. Ray talked to Rick McMillen about cooking duck, and Chef Tim Love about cooking techniques. Walking back and forth to the venue, they saw assorted vendors and street performers.

After a difficult two days of judging, the Fujiura's were rewarded with an invitation to Saturday evening's "Feast Under the Stars" that featured competition-inspired dishes and announcements of the individual winners. The biggest winner from the Pacific Northwest was Ice Harbor Brewing and Queing from Kennewick, which claimed first place honors in brisket.

Sunday was devoted to the "Final Table," the contest between each of the winners of the contests. Sandwich winner Robert Butler was named the ultimate champion.

"We had a blast, a real do-again experience," Mrs. Fujiura said, "and we didn't spend money much on meals!"

Complete results and photos are posted at www.worldfoodchampionships.com

For more information about the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association visit www.pnwba.com.

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