HOW does it feel when the imagined pleasure of your company is compared to a monkfish tail, roasted and wrapped in bacon and served with red wine sauce? Next time, Sharon Stone, you'd better try law. The name of the celluloid siren was invoked breathlessly on Tuesday afternoon in a culinary competition. After one, middle-aged, balding judge swallowed a delicate, moist morsel, he sighed: ''This is as good as 11/2 hours with Sharon Stone.'' We knew we had got our winner. Welcome to the world of culinary competition judging, an addictive penance that involves doing search and destroy missions with a fork. Life could be worse than a six-hour sabbatical from the office, being held captive by a ribbon of fried asparagus and seeing enough foamy butter sauce to choke a cow. But someone's got to do it. Last Tuesday, four professionals from the food and beverage industry and I agreed to have our arms twisted - Alexis Gavriloff, general manager of Oliver's, Maurice Gardette, chef/owner Cafe de Paris, Nigel Davis, chef/senior lecturer, Department of Hotel and Tourism Management, Hongkong Polytechnic, Chris Baker, a food/beverage consultant and wine teacher, and myself. The event was the cooking competition at Hofex, the annual four-day trade show for the Asian hospitality industry, held recently at the Hongkong Convention Centre. We were asked to judge the best dish in the Western food category. Judging turned out to be six hours of slap-on-the-back camaraderie, bravado and being critical about the results of painstaking efforts. None of us volunteered our score sheets for an apron. The judges were penned in a corner, abreast a make-shift kitchen on the seventh level of the Convention Centre. Eight teams of three prepared a dish within 30-minutes amid the din of thousands of visitors who combed the exhibition floor. An hourly, mournful-sounding blast of bagpipes from the Scottish pavilion became my wrist-watch. Tuesday's category, Western, was one of three. Other days were reserved for Chinese and Asian. Teams were expected to display their dish on an appropriate table-setting. Guidelines for judging included creativity, use of ingredients, culinary skill and presentation. Though teams were introduced and identified by number, so many familiar faces mocked the rules. ''Oh, Jean-Marc, you're cooking today,'' boomed Gardette over the hiss of skillets. ''Tres bon.'' Were we fed up after six hours? No. The portions were smaller than appetiser-size and rarely was anything finished. Except Sharon's culinary clone. Our ten-minute break between duty was spent scouting the exhibition floor en masse, for a glass of wine or, for two, a cigarette and a deserted corner. Gardette's ''where's the wine'' first sounded around 12.50 pm, after the first entry, smoked duck breast with orange cous-cous, was tasted. By 3.35 pm, he was exchanging bear hugs for bottles from his Italian wine friends. After one judge joked about the tumblers of water with lemon slices - ''fish wouldn't even swim in that'' - Gavriloff summoned one of his employees for more Chardonnay. Throughout the afternoon criticism was balanced with empathy. ''I have been competing since I was 16,'' remarked Davis. ''Those kids are sweating.'' As one cook wrestled with a skillet of pan-fried fish, testing done-ness with his knuckles, the chefs-turned-judges volunteered a battle story or two about asbestos fingers and grease burns. Within an hour we knew each other's penchant. Davis was a technique man. Gavriloff had an eye for aesthetics while Baker was merciless when it came to anything - cutlery, glassware, plates - less-than-spotless. Whenever a chef would turn his back, Gardette would steal an ingredient to test its freshness. I saw cellulite in every knob of butter. When the chef from the Pacific Club slammed a range door with his kitchen-safe black shoe, Davis, Baker and Gardette agreed the best way to judge a range was to step on its door. No one obliged to demonstrate. Contrary to popular notion, nouvelle cuisine isn't dead. It resurrected for the Hofex competition. Butter sauces and over-fussed plates, the kind intended for framing in an art gallery, were the rule. Escoffier's philosophy ''to keep it simple'' fell on deaf ears. And Julia Child would have gagged at the amount of demi-glace, lying in ambush in the saucepans. Bok choy got thumbs-down as a bad vegetable choice, ''flavourless''. But spinach was judged a workhorse, ''good anywhere you put it''. Why one team went to the expense of using fresh lobster with frozen sea scallops mystified all of us. The napkins, pleated and fanned, could have been contestants in an origami fold-off. Smoking reared its ugly head through the array of ashtrays. Most begged for a Fidel Castro-sized cigar. ''If the chef does his job right, why do you need these,'' quipped Baker about eight pairs of salt and pepper shakers. A live goldfish, the focal point of one table setting, got two death threats. And turning over the hand-painted plates (''they're by Suzy Kramer and their really expensive'') elicited a litany of estimates in US dollars on the cost of the ultra-chic, yet difficult-to-use, cutlery. By 6 pm, our energy level and concentration ran out before the wine. When indefatigable Gardette issued another opinion - that Austrian, German and Swiss chefs cook with pencils while the French cook with their hearts - the organiser motioned us around the microphone. The crew from the Pacific Club won. Monkfish will never be the same. Neither will Sharon.