Before this past weekend, I’d never had lobster in my 49 years.

I was eyeing a beautiful display of bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers before they were quickly whisked away from my table Friday night during the S.C. Festival of Discovery Anything Goes, dessert and Kids Que competition judging.

I later found out the box went to a table with someone who didn’t want seafood. Then there it was – right in front of me – a lobster tail in a small cup. I’m thinking, “Thanks a lot!” Turns out the person responsible for me getting lobster is a coworker who doesn’t eat seafood.

But, hey. I signed up to do this. So, I prepared myself to consume something I had no intentions of ever eating.

Guess what: It ended up being the top-rated entry on my official scorecard for the Anything Goes event, which is any dish that doesn’t include the main categories of meat judged during the festival’s final day. The lobster creation received all nines from me – the highest score you could give in the three categories of presentation, taste and tenderness. The presentation was flawless. The taste was unexpectedly delightful.

Many people probably had similar experiences this past weekend during the festival. They tried something new and found out what they’ve been missing.

Friday night’s judging included the Kids Que, featuring children ages 6-15 competing. Officials picked two tables to judge that category. My table didn’t make the cut this year, but I judged the event in 2018. Know this: Kids can cook — and they are serious about it.

Unlike the certified Kansas City Barbeque Society judges who score the main entries of meat on Saturday, the Friday night judging brings together residents who get a crash-course lesson on judging. We each received a scorecard and a placemat that included boxes for each item and a place to number the blind entries.

An official KCBS judge had us stand and recite a pledge to do our best to bring honor to the competition through our participation. Each table had six people – and included a table leader who officiates and gathers the entries to bring to our table.

The KCBS official who was present challenged us not to display any emotion when we first saw the desserts – because KCBS judges aren’t allowed to show their approval or disapproval. Well, guess who the first person was to say, “Oh, wow!” when our table representative arrived with a tray full of amazing-looking sweets, including what had to be one of the best cheesecakes I’ve ever had?

Yep. I’m guilty.

Sure, there were some dishes I didn’t like. My wife, who joined me at the event but wasn’t at my table, pointed out that one of her samples came with a pickle. We are strictly a no-pickle family, although I ate one on a Kids Que burger during the 2018 judging. I later found out that winning burger included bison meat – another first for me. Once again, it was the highest-rated entry on my card. What is it with people feeding me things I would normally not try?

While this was fun, it was also important. All the volunteer judges seemed to recognize they were passing judgment on food prepared with a whole lot of love, labor and time.

Maybe just knowing all the hard work that went into making the lobster dish caused me to enjoy it more than I expected.

That’s the beauty of festivals such as this one. Bringing people together to bond over food is a Southern tradition.

Now it’s time for me to explore more of my newfound passion for lobster.

Any suggestions?

Contact staff writer Greg Deal at 864-943-5647 or follow on Twitter @IJDEAL.