Arts and Entertainment

Poulsbo gets saucy for annual Tomato Taste-Off

MorMor Bistro head chef John Nesby let us into his kitchen last week to check out the menagerie of tomatoes being grown locally.  - Bill Mickelson/What
MorMor Bistro head chef John Nesby let us into his kitchen last week to check out the menagerie of tomatoes being grown locally.
— image credit: Bill Mickelson/What's Up

As a hobbyist grower, John Nesby isn't one to speak all that authoritatively on the upbringing of tomatoes.

But as head chef of Mor Mor Bistro in downtown Poulsbo and a Poulsbo Farmers Market board member — on the culinary side of things, "I can tell a good tomato," he asserts.

This Saturday, Nesby will give his annual chef demonstrations at the Poulsbo market aptly focused on "The Great Tomato." Then, next week, he'll be back at the market Sept. 12, serving as emcee for the PFM's sixth annual Tomato Taste Off, in which local hobbyists and professional growers alike put their tomatoes up anonymously to be decided on by a panel of local judges and connoisseurs.

"More than anything I thought it was fun to see local people come together for a local agricultural competition," Nesby remembered from the first year of the event. "It reminded me up the pie-eating contest from 'Stand By Me' ... only without all the vomiting."

Soon after Poulsbo's first Tomato Taste Off in 2002, Nesby joined the farmers market board and has since taken the lead for the event. Each year, in addition to serving as emcee, he also picks the judges and sets up a rubric of what they should be looking for in a good tomato.

Entries are divided into three categories: Cherry/Pear Tomatoes (the bite-sized variety which Nesby says his 3-year-old refers to as “tomato berries”), Cooking/Canning Tomatoes (varieties specifically tailored to be consumed in cooked form), and the most popular, also the most challenging, category, Nesby said, Slicing/Salad Tomatoes.

“We always try and look for a tomato that has a real burst of flavor,” Nesby said.

In addition, judges will also weigh in on appearance and texture, staying mindful of sugar-to-acid ratios, shape in the smaller varieties, internal composition, skin consistency and more.

Winners get gift baskets from event sponsors, along with the bragging rights of being the "Best Tomato Grower in Poulsbo."

But perhaps the most rewarding part of the experience, according to Nesby, is simply taking part.

"I think it's really fun for grandpa Johnson to put his tomatoes up anonymously against someone who does this professionally," Nesby said. "Almost every year, the winner has been a hobbyist."

THE 2009 POULSBO TOMATO TASTE-OFF is slated for Sept. 12 at the Poulsbo Farmers Market, located in the medical/dental center parking lot at Iverson and 7th Avenue in Poulsbo. Participants are asked to bring a dozen or more cherry-sized tomatoes or six-eight full-size for entry at 9 a.m., with the contest to follow. Info: www.poulsbofarmersmarket.com.

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