Judging an edible book festival
You can't judge a book by its cover, but what about by its edible interpretation?
Taking my place on the judging panel at the International Edible Book Festival, this was the task put before me on Friday at the newly-named Ara Institute on Madras St in Christchurch.
Open to students and staff, the rules were simple – create an edible interpretation of a well-known book, to be publicly displayed and judged.
Welcomed by Julie Humby, from Ara's promotions team, I was told it was the fourth year they had hosted the internationally-run event.
"We've had about 20 entries this year, which is slightly down from last year, when we had about 30."
My fellow judges were Christchurch City Libraries editor Donna Robertson, Ara acting director of student services Diana Law, and Lyttelton-based columnist and writer Joe Bennett.
I was handed my category for which I had to pick a winner – most delectable – good thing I have a sweet tooth.
The pen strung to my cardboard clipboard swung dangerously close to the first cake – and eventual winner of my category – a colourful interpretation of Michael Crummey's 2014 novel Sweetland.
A jet plane cruised across a lime-green icing landscape of wine gums and pebbles, bordered with licorice allsorts and marshmallows.
My mouth watered at the sight of the sugary monstrosity, my mind filled with nostalgic thoughts of childhood and Dilip's pick 'n' mix in Karori, Wellington. There was no contest.
Donna Robertson had to pick "best interpretation", choosing an imaginative but rather inedible rendition of Emma Bombeck's 1978 novel If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?
"It made me laugh out loud," Robertson said, adding that it "buzzed with wit and danger".
Diana Law was tasked with choosing "most imaginative", settling on an impressive creation depicting Val McDermid's 2002 novel The Last Temptation.
Law said "there was obviously a lot of thought put into it".
"It has a depth of imagination to it, and wasn't so in your face as some others."
Last up was Joe Bennett, in his element selecting the "funniest" entry.
In what he described as a "degenerate choice", Bennett decided on a unique interpretation of John Steinbeck's 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath.
In a slight adjustment of title, the entry replaced "wrath" with "Roth", purposely placing a pair of grapes on a printed imagine of David Lee Roth, of Van Halen fame.
"When I saw it I snorted," Bennett said.
A collective "best in show" was chosen in a judges' huddle.
We decided on a cake adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's 2003 novel The Kite Runner.
The banana cake with cream cheese icing was created by Bree Underhill, who said she wanted to show "a different take" on the novel.
"It took about three hours – the hardest part was probably the legs, they were pretty fiddely."
Working as the student liason manager at the Ara Institute, Underhill admitted she hadn't read the highly-acclaimed novel, but "it is on the list".