Food Critic

I am sitting on a boat indoors. I’m in a large marine showroom, in Pensacola, Florida, where they are holding a high-brow culinary competition cookoff. I am on this pontoon because I am an introvert and I’m hiding even though, technically, I’m one of the contest judges.

Of course, it’s bad luck to sit on a boat that’s on dry land. Any sailor will tell you. Even so, I have no choice but to sit aboard because there is nowhere else to put my beverage.

This is a huge party. There are hundreds of guests milling around, weaving between showroom yachts, holding plates, sipping adult beverages, and exchanging business cards like people do at trade shows.

I am not good at this kind of professional socialization because—and I think I already mentioned this—I’m an introvert.

PARTY GUEST: Hi, I’m Jim, I sell insurance for Mutual of Sheboygan. Here’s my card. So what do you do?

ME: I’m a writer, what about you? What do you do?

GUEST (staring at me flatly): Insurance.

Right now, a DJ is playing Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell In Love,” and the aroma of food is everywhere. I’m watching the whole soirée safely from the pontoon cockpit with my pal, Steve, captain of the Pensacola Police Department. Another introvert and fellow competition judge.

We both know we should be down there with the rest of the mass of extroverts, yucking it up. But this would require physically leaving our pontoon. So here we are.

The pontoon we have selected tonight is a Scout Luxury Center Console model. This is not your granddaddy’s pontoon. This boat has a maximum of 350 horsepower, comes with two full-sized electronic lounge chairs, and is approximately the same price as the Jefferson Memorial.

This is a very different pontoon than the kind from my childhood. My uncle Ray Ray used to patrol Lake Martin in a vessel he named the “Nautical Seafarer.” For short, we called it the “Nausea.”

His ship had duct tape on the seats and a sun canopy made from salvaged Tyvek plywood wrap. The steering wheel was a pair of vice clamps attached to the busted steering column and his radio only played Duane, Greg, and Skynyrd.

But anyway, Steve and I are happy on our boat, people-watching. We don’t say much to each other because that is how introverts hang out. Introverts don’t need many words.

“You see that?” Steve might say.



And conversation-wise, we’re good to go for another few months.

Consequently, the reason I am at this culinary cookoff is because this is part of Egg Fest, an annual barbecue competition I participate in. And each year—this just shows you how off-kilter the nation is—they keep asking me to be a competition judge.

Truthfully, it’s humiliating to know nothing about food but to keep pretending like you do. It’s even worse when some hopeful young chef’s hopes and dreams hinge upon your judgement call.

The competition goes like this: The chef hands you a plate with their steaming contest entry, then they look at you with doe eyes while you prepare to critique it.

After tasting their concoction, you are expected to make a culinary-informed and perspectivally balanced food critique.

“Mmmmm,” is one of my official critiques.

Over the years, some of the barbecue competition chefs have often tried to break conventions by preparing whacky, cutting-edge dishes with unusual ingredient combinations that would make your granny shoot a kidney stone.

“This dish,” one chef might announce, “is tomato-pumpkin birthday cake, topped with a fish sauce glaze and horseradish purée.”

And you, as a qualified judge, are expected to eat this.

Fact is, I’m not qualified to be a food critic. All I really know how to do is take a bite and frown thoughtfully. In reality, I’m too nice to give bad judgements, even if the food tastes like a boiled bowling shoe. So usually I just give every contestant five stars.

This year, however, I’m not allowed to do that. Because this is not how competitions work. These culinary entrants have worked too hard to be judged halfheartedly by a guy who puts ketchup on his macaroni and cheese.

Enter my wife.

My wife is a co-judge this year. And by “co-judge” I mean “don’t make me spit my beer.” Because my wife doesn’t “co” do anything. Since we’ve been married, for example, I have only driven my vehicle only once inasmuch as whenever we’re together, she drives.

In the realm of food my wife has lots of credibility. She is a trained chef de cuisine with decades of professional experience, and a proud graduate of the Faulkner State culinary school. Also, she is a Scorpio, which means sometimes she bosses kitchen staffers around by use of surgically sharp German cutlery.

My wife does not mess around when it comes to food. This is a woman who will tell you what she thinks.

“You call this sewage a soufflé?” is one of her official critiques.

All in all, this cutthroat gastronomic world is too uncomfortable for an easygoing guy like me. Which is why I have casually wandered away from the loud party, happily watching the festivities from afar. Introverting.

I’ll be on this pontoon if anyone needs me.


  1. Jemaverick - November 13, 2021 6:56 am

    As always just an impeccable heartwarming escape into the memories and stories of others. Thank you for giving us something new to share with you every day!

  2. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - November 13, 2021 9:09 am

    Sean, you’re the best! Probably because Jamie told you to be. You’d be a sewage souffle without her.
    I love you both.

    • Larry Wall - November 14, 2021 7:07 pm

      Ah, contrare as to Sean, Steve, mon ami. While Jamie may have expedited the resulting writing career, que sera’, sera’. The writer gene was in the DNA. But I know you were just offering Sean an in-fun jab.

  3. Kate - November 13, 2021 12:37 pm

    Sean, this has nothing to do with your writing, which I do enjoy, BUT, I love your art work. I probably check your art work everyday first and look at it carefully. I personally find it amazing that you are able to illustrated each of your columns. You really are an amazing person. So glad you found Jamie.

  4. Jackie Cooley - November 13, 2021 12:40 pm

    This one was hilarious. Thanks for the laugh this morning!!!!

  5. Dean - November 13, 2021 12:59 pm

    Thanks for starting my day with a laugh. Always enjoy your column

  6. Allison Cobb Gilmore - November 13, 2021 1:05 pm

    Until I read the last word in the-next-to-last-paragraph in this column, I’ve never thought about using introvert as a verb. So I now think that I can begin to say things like, “I’m introverting today.” Or “Sorry — I can’t go [wherever] because I have to introvert tomorrow.” 😊

  7. Suellen - November 13, 2021 1:22 pm

    I do love food but I love all food. It can really be some kind of slop and I would love it. It has to be really bad before I would be critical. My husband on the other had always seems to be able to find something wrong with it. I’d be with you up in the pontoon.

  8. Sarah - November 13, 2021 1:41 pm

    Ha ha ha. Today’s writing made me giggle.

    Silent cheer for the introverts!

  9. drjamesmarlin - November 13, 2021 1:53 pm

    I rarely eat Mac and cheese without ketchup. In fact, it’s on the menu for today. Thanks for the reminder!!!

  10. Steve James - November 13, 2021 1:59 pm

    Amen brother.

  11. Gloria R. Reynolds - November 13, 2021 2:12 pm

    The pontoon sounds perfect to me. I love people one-on-one. I like crowds from a distance!

  12. Pat D - November 13, 2021 2:24 pm

    Thanks…I needed a good laugh this morning!

  13. Timothy Bell - November 13, 2021 2:53 pm

    This was one of your important explanatory sentences,
    ‘Since we’ve been married, for example, I have only driven my vehicle only once inasmuch as whenever we’re together, she drives.’
    … I think you need to give it another try.

  14. Sandra Mosolgo - November 13, 2021 2:56 pm

    The world doesn’t understand or appreciate us introverts.

  15. BEX - November 13, 2021 3:33 pm

    I would be in the pontoon with you….I hate to hurt peoples feelings. I also hate crowds….. BUT I want to be Jamie when I grow up and tell it like it is! 👍🏻

  16. Paul McCutchen - November 13, 2021 5:44 pm

    I used to judge bar b que for Memphis in a May. There are two kinds of cooks. Those who can cook and those who think they can cook.

  17. MAM - November 13, 2021 6:40 pm

    And i’m the one out talking to everyone within earshot, while my hubby is probably not even in the pontoon. He most likely stayed home. And fortunately or unfortunately, I have the “pleasure” of being known as the one who tells it like it is. That’s probably why I like you, Sean, and your writing. I’ve always liked quiet men.

  18. MAM - November 13, 2021 6:43 pm

    And again. My post was beat out by somebody else. But I’m nothing if not persistent. I would be the one out talking to everyone within earshot, while my husband probably wouldn’t even be in the pontoon. He most likely stayed home. And I, fortunately or unfortunately, kind of have the reputation for “telling it like it is.” I like quiet men, so that means I like you, Sean, and always like your writing!

  19. Linda Moon - November 13, 2021 11:00 pm

    I need your words, extrovert that I am, so don’t go solitary on me and the rest of us thousands who allow you to introvert from a solitary keyboard that requires no annoying conversations. Just keep quiet and keep writing. I can’t cook but I’ll tell your wife lots of positive stuff the next time I see her!

  20. Nancy Carnahan - November 14, 2021 12:52 am

    Sierra County CA–in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Tahoe National Forest. We have a chili cookoff at the top of Yuba Pass every March. The east side competes against the west side of the county. It has no rules and bribery is encouraged (a bottle of adult beverage is a good bribe). Even if it looks like banana cream pie and you say it’s chili, it’s chili. Sometimes there is sunshine, sometimes there’s a blizzard. It’s not your ordinary food cookoff.

  21. Nancy M - November 14, 2021 1:15 pm

    I’ve also seen “peopling” used as a verb, so now I can truthfully say, “I’ve been peopling too much today already. I’m staying home introverting tonight.”

    I’m curious; why is a barbecue competition called Egg Fest?

  22. Anita Smith - November 14, 2021 4:31 pm

    Love it ❤️

  23. Karen Snyder - November 15, 2021 2:34 am

    This was a fun post! One of my profile photos on social media is a coffee mug that says, “please go away, I’m introverting.” 😉

    Once I might have billed myself an acceptable cook, but it was never a passion or, for that matter, much of a pleasure. Thus, I don’t cook much now that I am alone. Occasionally, however, I will make a pot of chili or the like and have multiple meals for one effort. I did that yesterday and the result would surely qualify for Jamie’s “sewage” description. Contrary to my dear departed sister, it is NOT acceptable to substitute ground turkey for ground beef! Aaack!!

  24. Debra - November 17, 2021 1:06 am

    Ketchup on mac and cheese?! ME TOO!


Leave a Comment