Look, I have an enviable job. I get to work with Michelin-starred chefs, eat in Britain’s best restaurants and travel the world looking for the next food trends and the most elusive ingredients. But nothing, NOTHING, has elicited as much envy as being on the judging panel of the Scotch Egg Challenge.
Discretion prevents me from sharing the emails and private messages that demand to know my credentials or, more winningly, offer rewards for a ringside seat. But the joy of the event that Young’s hosts at the Canonbury Tavern (now in its ninth year), is that anyone and everyone can come… and there are A LOT of eggs so the chances of getting at least a nibble of the snacks in contention is high.
Last year I was a newcomer to the panel and thought my only preparation was to put on my sweatshirt emblazoned with an egg. Now (cue hollow laugh) I know better. With twenty or so top-flight chefs creating the scotch eggs, a huge appetite, well-honed tastebuds and the willingness to try even the most out-there interpretation of the brief are vitally important. Also, Tupperware.
What I love about the Scotch Egg Challenge, created by master publican and one of London’s leading bon viveurs Oisin Rogers, is that it is at once deadly serious and enormous fun. With such restaurants taking part as Smoking Goat, Brat, Lino and The Dairy (among many other luminaries), there is major talent on show. But, and here’s the rub, we judges don’t know which chef has created which egg. And often they’re sitting right in front of you, searching your face for flickers of ecstasy or disgust as you ingest. What’s needed is not so much poker face as an expression as blank as a plain boiled egg.
Last year I wrestled with my emotions as a vegan version was presented to me; what looked like a potato rolled in Paxo – but you know what, it tasted pretty good. It’s just not a scotch egg. So what is? Well, ideally an egg in the middle, wrapped in some form of protein. I’ve given a lot of thought over the last few weeks to what I’d make if I was one of the contestants, although knowing how tough my fellow judges are, I’d never attempt it in real life. I’m not telling you, though. I’m saving it for my memoir, Eggbound.
If you fancy watching me try to slice a scotch egg into wafer-thin segments (look, I’ll never make it out alive if I don’t), while rubbing shoulders with London’s top culinary talent and having a few beers at the same time, come along. Anyone who proffers a dish with that Heinz/Cadbury crème egg mayo as a dipping sauce is automatically disqualified, though. Even a glutton has their limits…
Lisa Markwell, food editor, The Sunday Times
Lisa will be documenting the action on Instagram @holdsknifelikepen