the hot sauce contest, soup-gate, and other work contests gone awry — Ask a Manager


not an official contest, but it’s one of my favorite stories.
this reminded me:

“We have an annual soup contest that someone won a few years back with a package of ‘just add water’ mix. It’s referred to as the soup-doping scandal or soup-gate.”

Sitting in my office w/ my deputy, and the Big Cheese comes by to drop something off, then says she’s going to the farmer’s market in Union Square, did we want anything? Some apples?
I say, “Ooh, if you see any Northern Spy apples, bring me six?”
My deputy remarks that I’m highly specific, and I say, “yes, they make great pies. I make the BEST pies.” then I teasingly say something like, “better than yours.”
He says, “what do you mean–just because I’m a guy, you think I don’t make pies?”
No, I say–I was just joshing him, but he goes on that he makes a good pie too, maybe better than mine.

OK, I say, we’ll have a contest. He enthusiastically agrees. We pick a day a couple of weeks out, when there won’t be deadlines. And the whole time between, he’s making jokes like, “When I buy my pie–er, I mean the ingredients–I’m going to beat you.” ha ha, he’s still razzing me about the assumption that he can’t bake a pie (which I didn’t actually assume, you note–my joke actually assumes that he DOES make pies, just not as good as mine).

This goes on. I mention the contest to my roommate, who hears of his jokes and says, “Toots, he doesn’t bake pies, he’s going to buy it.” I defend him, no, he’s just a funny guy (which he is), and he’s got this joke going, so he’s milking it.

I bake two pies the night before (because I always do–it’s not that much more time, and if I’m going to make a mess, well, I’ll get two pies out of it…). I get a late start, and it’s involved, so I’m up late.

We bring the pies in that morning, and he says something about the yummy smell from his oven that morning. I say, “Oh, did you bake it early this morning? I thought about that, but I didn’t want to carry it hot.” He and the other staff look at me a little funny. I go to my office.

He comes in and says, “Everybody thinks that I should tell you–I thought you got the jokes, but it’s kind of clear you didn’t understand. I bought my pie from the Little Pie Company of the Big Apple.”

I looked at him. My brain froze. I’d spent ALL THIS TIME defending him to my friends and roommate, taking every joke as confirmation that he was actually going to bake his own pie. I couldn’t think.

I said, “You’re fired.” It just came out.

Thank GOD he didn’t believe me.
He was one of the best hires I’ve ever made, I really loved working with him, and we are friends today, decades and decades later. But I just…said it.

So we had the contest anyway, this time on honest terms. Someone came to my office and said, “I really hate to say it, but I did like his pie better. The one in the glass pie plate.”
I’m like, “The two in the glass pie plates are mine.”

I beat the Little Pie Company of the Big Apple.
I attribute it all to the choice of the Northern Spy apple.

(which, btw, is now hard to find; a blight hit those trees, I was told at a farmer’s market in the Berkshires several years later)



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