Burke Couple Cooks Up Culinary Trivia Game

Burke Couple Cooks Up Culinary Trivia Game

Burke couple invents board game for gourmets.

Trader Vic, the owner of the famous London restaurant, was known for letting guests stick an ice pick into his wooden leg.

Spaghetti and meatballs is not really Italian.

Broiled rat with shallots was a popular dish in Bordeaux, France until the 1800s.

Ho Chi Minh was a classically trained French chef.

Burke resident Neil Olonoff dug up these facts and 366 more to create one of the first-ever trivia games for people who love food.

"People are more into food now than ever," said Olonoff, who invented "Foodie Craze" with wife Judy Brown. The game's official launch in November kicked off a busy holiday season for Olonoff and Brown, who aside from their respective day jobs as a consultant and an accountant, also represent a specialized but steadily growing group of people called "foodies."

According to Olonoff who has written an article on the subject, foodies are just people who love eating good food. Often foodies own chef-quality kitchen tools, eat at fine restaurants and will scour gourmet food stores looking for rare ingredients, wrote Olonoff in the article.

"When you think about it, [food] really touches on every aspect of life," he said.

Brown and Olonoff are members of a neighborhood gourmet club. They are also adventurous eaters: their first date was to an Ethiopian restaurant.

"We've tried every ethnic cuisine there is to try in the Washington area," said Brown, whose love for good food was cemented by her family history. Brown, a native of Charlottesville, counts Patrick Henry as a direct ancestor. She grew up cooking "plain Southern food," she said, using family recipes that were most likely handed down from colonial America. For years, Brown owned a catering business on the side and produced "Judy Brown's Good Food," selling homemade food items such as snickerdoodle mixes and pumpkin butter.

Olonoff, whose Argentinian father owned an export business, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. He has traveled all over the world, from Brazil to Asia, and speaks several different languages. His biggest instance of culture shock, however, was in high school, when his father took the family to Tulsa, Okla. The family went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner, and when Olonoff's father ordered the meal, the waiter asked what type of bread he would like.

"It was then I knew I wasn't in Brooklyn anymore," said Olonoff.

BOTH BROWN and Olonoff agree that of the two, she is the cook.

"Judy's a great cook. She's the reason for this game," said Olonoff. "I like to eat, though." Although Brown grew up preparing Southern cuisine, her cooking abilities span the globe, from Chinese to Ethiopian to Thai. Her Thai shrimp and scallop cakes were one of 10 runners-up in a Gourmet Magazine article, she said, and her favorite cuisine to prepare is Cuban.

Brown was the inspiration for the game, said Olonoff. Last year, he wanted to give his wife a food trivia game for Christmas, but he couldn't find one in any of the stores.

He decided to invent one. The result, Foodie Craze, is 400 questions about food printed onto cards and gathered into 10 categories. These categories range from "Innocents Abroad," culinary facts from overseas, to "Savory Scenes," Olonoff's favorite, which features food trivia from movies, literature and TV shows.

"We tried to make it less of a competitive game and more of a conversation starter," said Olonoff. Foodie Craze does not require a board or playing pieces. Players can follow scoring rules and play on teams, or they can just read questions aloud and try to guess the answer, he said.

"I find that adults don't really like to sit around and play a board game," said Brown.

Foodie Craze differs from other trivia games in that the questions are all multiple-choice, said Olonoff.

"The thing about Trivial Pursuit that drives me nuts is that if somebody asks a question, you either know it or you don't. If you don't, there's no alternative or anything," said Olonoff. The alternate choices to each of the answers in Foodie Craze make the questions less stressful, he said, and even if the player does not know the answer, it is still entertaining.

But for the game's creators, thinking up the alternate answers turned out to be one of the most difficult parts, said Brown. But the couple's years of cooking and dining experience supplied many of the questions, while Olonoff gathered the rest through months of research.

"I have enough questions to make another Foodie Craze," said Olonoff.

The designing process proved to be another challenge. Brown and Olonoff were very involved in the design process with Virginia design firm Platt Hollow Road, they said. They wanted a game that would appeal to younger people and still look good on the coffee table, said Brown.

"It was certainly a little bit of work to figure out what the right look would be," said Alan Schutte, president of Platt Hollow Road and creative director for the project. The result is a printed tin with cards inside, the design meant to evoke a "retro, upscale" feel, he said.

"We've done some packaging projects before, but we really enjoyed it," he said. "As I got into the project, I became a real fan of the game itself."

The first shipments of the game have begun to come in, said Olonoff, along with orders. Foodie Craze has its own Web site, he said, www.foodiecraze.com, with a chat board for people to share food trivia, and for game owners to win prizes.

"It's for the foodie who has everything," he said.