Cheryl Grgurinovic is a highly successful show entrant. She specialises in jams, preserves and sauces but also enters cakes and bread. The technical challenge of producing a perfect product inspires Cheryl. So too does the social aspect of the show. With friends as fellow competitors, the show is a social event which culminates in a meal out paid for by their yearly prize money.
Below Cheryl reflects on her experiences at the show and her achievement of a champion ribbon in 2011. (The excerpts below are from an interview recorded with Cheryl in February 2012.)
Listen to Cheryl reflect on her show experiences
In 2003, a friend badgered me into competing in the show for 2003. She was doing garden vegetables and making marmalade. So I thought, “I’ll have a go at making some jams and jellies too”. I think I put in about four or five different things and I won one third place, which was pretty good. I was very pleased with that.
That was what started me off. I think if I’d won nothing I might perhaps have not gone on. But ever since then my friend and I have been competing every year, and we’ve managed to drag in another friend.
In terms of learning how to make jams and jellies, I really didn’t have a clue when I started, which showed in the fact I got one third prize the first time I entered. I tend to overcook everything to death, so it was like rubber.
The reason I hadn’t really done a lot of jam making was my mother never did any. I mean, she was pretty busy. But also it’s quite a lengthy process to make jam, and she had four children, all only two years apart. It’s not the sort of thing you can do if you’ve got young kids running around all over the place, so she never really made jam much.
I didn’t really have anybody who was an elderly cook who I could ask. So it was pretty much trial and error.
Some of the best things to do in relation to learning how to cook for shows is to go to the judging. The judges usually have a judging book. When I went to pick my entries up after the show, [I would] always ask to have a look at the judging book to see if they made any notes. Usually they’re pretty sparse …
... but for the last two or three years I've actually been going to the judging, which is by far the best way to learn what you’re doing wrong, because the judges usually talk while they’re looking at everything, holding things up and telling people what’s the matter. It’s by far the best way to hear what the issues are.
My understanding is that the shows change the judge every year so you can't cook for a judge. I know I would. You are never sure exactly what the judge is looking for, so there’s no point cooking for a judge. It’s quite entertaining.
My friends and I sit in a row and we all have a great time discussing what’s wrong with what the judge is doing in the background (laughing).
I’m also a very harsh critic. I’d probably be quite a harsh judge. I like judges who stick strictly to the requirements. Part of competing in a show is not just producing a good product, it’s producing a product that sticks to the schedule. I must admit that I do get annoyed with judges who are lenient on that. The show categories will say “must be in a jar this big”. It does annoy me a bit when judges start assessing a product that’s not presented correctly. I am a bit strict about things like that.
It’s not just about quality product; it’s about the presentation. And that goes across everything. For vegetables it’ll say three whatever; for herbs it’ll say three bunches of herbs. If I was a judge, I’d just be not judging [them]. I like judges who are really tough.
We sat in awe of a judge a couple of years ago who got out a ruler. She was measuring all the slices, and I thought: “good on you” (laughing). Part of being a good cook is presenting something as required.
Over the years it’s also become a social thing with my friends. I think if I was just doing it on my own, I’d be wanting to win - that would be the motive. But because I go with friends it’s the social side too.
On the morning of the show I go [to my friend’s house in Dickson] with my stuff. We sit and look at everybody’s biscuits and things and think, “Isn’t that wonderful”. Then we load everything into a car, with one friend usually clutching her novelty vegetable sculpture so it doesn’t fall apart while we’re driving. We drive at about two miles an hour, or two kilometres an hour, to the show so nothing falls apart. It’s great.
You go for the judging. You can park right outside the Harvest Hall and you can stay there all day and watch the judging. Then we always have lunch or dinner somewhere after. It’s more a social thing for me as well.
Having been going to the Canberra Show for 13-odd years, it’s really very popular. It is quite striking how agricultural shows have maintained their popularity.