The Flying Camel Fête

The summer fête was the event of the year in a sleepy seaside community with the unusual name Flying Camel. There were card parties, games of chance and elephant sales; fortune tellers and book tables. The highlight of the festivities was the annual Taste of the Town contest.

Every year, people would come to Flying Camel from miles around, lugging crockpots and chafing dishes. There were a record twenty-seven entries in the 2002 contest. Mrs. Waxel showed up with her wondrous wild rice risotto. Mr. Flutz flaunted his fabulous flan. Chi Chi Congelado travelled fifteen miles from the village of Bunny Hop with an overflowing pot of her famous Cha Cha Chasse chili in tow.

For years, Delia Doubleloop ruled the Taste of the Town contest with an iron fist. The mere smell of her perfume in the air evoked fear in the contestant's hearts. She sauntered slowly from table to table, yielding her pretentious jewel-encrusted tasting spoon like a sword. 

After each tasting, Delia loudly expressed her displeasure. Mrs. Waxel went wobbly in the knees when Delia ruled that the risotto wasn't fit for a starving retriever. Mr. Flutz started sweating profusely when Delia announced his flan was a flop. Chi Chi Congelado cried when Delia called her Cha Cha Chasse chili Kaka Chasse chili. 

When it was announced that first prize went to Delia's dear friend Mrs. Twizzle, who showed up with the driest shortbreads in town, pandemonium broke out in the tent where the Taste of the Town contest was held. Delia snuck out the back of the tent with a smirk on her face as an angry mob surrounded the event's organizer, Mr. Seasonsbest. They demanded to know why Delia continued to be the head judge when she awarded first prize to her friends every year, regardless of how bland and uninspiring their food was.

"Now, now," protested Mr. Seasonsbest. "Delia has been judging the Taste of the Town since 1953, back in the days when the contest was held outdoors. You always complain, but I can hardly do anything about it... Her best friend is the mayor's wife and the mayor sponsors the contest!"

Mrs. Waxel started a letter-writing campaign to have Delia expelled; Mr. Flan put up "Delia Must Go!" posters at the church hall and post office. The pressure on Mr. Seasonsbest to do something was mounting... and eventually he did.

In an exclusive interview with Mrs. Wobblyedge, the intrepid reporter of the "Flying Times Gazette", Mr. Seasonsbest candidly discussed his position. Delia would remain as head judge, because he wouldn't want to lose the Mayor's financial support and finding a fair, impartial judge would simply involve more effort than he was willing to put in. Instead, the format of the Taste of the Town contest would be completely revamped. To put everyone on an even playing field, no one would be allowed to cook anymore. Taste of the Town would transform into a baking competition. Everyone would follow the same recipe and make exactly the same pie. "Precision," said Mr. Seasonsbest, "was far more important than flavour."

Fewer people attended the following year's Taste in the Town contest, but those who did watched with a curious interest as Delia sauntered around with a measuring tape instead of her customary tasting spoon. She penalized Mrs. Waxel because the peaks on her meringue were too many millimeters apart. She almost had a coronary when she saw Mr. Flutz use a 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon instead of 1/8. Though Mrs. Twizzle's pie crust crumbled, she received suspiciously high marks for PCS - Pie Component Scores. She grudgingly awarded Chi Chi Congelado extra points for sprinkling nutmeg on the top of her pie in the second half of the contest, because after all - that was the true mark an excellent pie.

A hush fell over the crowd as Mr. Seasonsbest opened the envelope and announced the winner: "First prize... Chi Chi Congelado". When a surprised Chi Chi went up to accept her prize, a coupon for 20% off a monogrammed tea cozy, she sighed and announced, "A win is a win, but this is bittersweet. The nutmeg in the second half was a new Personal Best, but the Cha Cha Chasse Chili I made last year was far tastier I think."

When I talk about why figure skating history is so important, I often bring up cooking and baking. You can spend the same time in the kitchen doing both, but they are polar opposites - as different as night and day, yin and yang or skating and gymnastics.

Before the IJS system was introduced, competitive skating was a lot like cooking. People absolutely followed a general recipe, but you had plenty of room to experiment. 

When you're in the kitchen making a marinara sauce that would do Sophia Petrillo proud, you have the freedom to put your own spin on a tried and true recipe - an extra dash of pepper here, a substitution there. Cooking can be a form of self-expression; whereas baking is really a science.

To achieve success in competitive skating today, you need to follow a recipe to the letter. Music be damned, you need to hit those levels to get those all-important points. The logic is honestly a hoot really: "Cross-cuts bad! Difficult transitions good! Spin levels! Features! Me Tarzan! You Jane!" A healthy sprinkle of nuance would have done a world of good when they came up with this stuff.

As any great baker will attest, when you follow a good recipe to the letter the cake you make will end up being delicious - but it will be almost identical to the one in the magazine and the person next-door's.

One of the main reasons figure skating history is so important is that there is a whole generation coming up now who have learned to become masterful bakers, but they don't even know that there was a time when cooking was all the rage.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support by signing up for the newsletter and ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":