All posts by Marc d'Entremont

I travel, cook, eat, observe, interact, live and write. As a culinary and cultural travel writer I seek connections among people, activities, the environment and what they eat that tell the story of a region/culture, whether that be in the remote Andes Mountains or the streets of Philadelphia. Publications include my travel web site on Argentina (www.travel-with-pen-and-palate-argentina.com) and articles covering a diverse range of countries and cultures at www.travelpenandpalate.com and both the digital and print editions of the Hellenic News of America. Industry experience includes over 45 years as a chef, chef educator, hotel and restaurant manager, catering as well as teaching history, writing, theater, culinary arts and business. I'm an active member in the American Culinary Federation.

Your Brain on Barbecue

 

Interviewing four of the 60 teams competing in Columbia, Missouri’s Fifth Annual Roots, Blues & BBQ Festival reveals a surprising mix of business and fun.

It was a beautiful Friday evening with a full moon illuminating 60 barbecue team sites containing mobile kitchens, smoking cookers, music blaring and people in a party mood before Saturday’s serious business at the Roots, Blues and BBQ Festival competition. At the invitation of the Columbia, Missouri, Convention and Visitors Bureau, I had exclusive access to interview four of the contestants and discover what makes this smoke filled event so exciting.

Spicewine Ironworks

Jay Curry heads the team of Spicewine Ironworks and the metallurgical term is no conceit. Already in the metal fabrication business, Jay started designing and making a better smoker seven years ago. He didn’t intend to create a line of cookers but word got around and success led to the creation of Spicewine Ironworks. “Probably ten or twelve of my cookers are out here,” at the Festival competition, “I don’t mind getting beat by one of my cookers,” Jay beams with both pride and modesty.

“Best thing is our cookers are insulated,” he explains, “they’ll cook just as well at -5°F or at 98°F. From a competition standpoint, the temperature stays even for four hours…” on one load of wood or charcoal. “We use apple wood for chicken and ribs, cherry wood for pork and brisket. You can really over smoke on hickory wood. We’re strictly fruit wood.”

Kansas City’s American Royal BBQ Competition

Jay didn’t stop at cookers. Over the years he has created recipes for barbecue sauces, rubs and seasonings and currently markets a dozen products. “One of our BBQ sauces (Blue Collar BBQ) took Best In the World at American Royal in 2009, and one of our rubs (Heffer Dust) took Best in the World in 2007.” That’s no mean feat considering that Kansas City’s annual American Royal is dubbed the World Series of BBQ with over 500 contestants.

“When doing a sauce I don’t make them with competition in mind. To sell it it has to please most of the people. In this area of central Missouri that means usually a sweet, tomato based sauce while in the Carolinas it has to be vinegar or mustard based.”

Soy Sauce Brine on the Chicken

Inside the gleaming stainless steel kitchen trailer, another of Spicewine Ironworks designs, I notice boneless chicken thighs sitting in a dark brine solution. Wondering if the color was brown sugar, I was told, “No, a little soy sauce and then we apply the spice mix after brining.”

As the music plays on the built-in Bose stereo system, they all seem happy with anticipation. And why not, having taken Grand Champion in May at the Columbia Elks Lodge #594’s competition, Spicewine Ironworks won a coveted spot at the American Royal’s 2011 Invitational limited to 150 Grand Champion winners.

Smokin’ BarbEGGque

At first I almost overlooked the Smokin’ BarbEGGque team seeing as they were set off from the general staging area across from the judging tent, but a series of maple wood tables holding bright green orbs caught my attention. It’s the only team exclusively using the Big Green Egg, the unique ceramic cooker that’s becoming a high end fixture in many backyards.

“The greatest thing we like about the Egg is that a lot of guys have to add water pans to keep the moisture. What we like is that the Egg’s designed to keep in the moisture,” explains team leader Trevor Bulgin. For Trevor, along with his wife Denise and partners Mark Schlemper and Trevor Fowler, this Festival represents something special other than simply the use of this unique cooker. This is Smokin’ BarbEGGque’s debut competition.

State Championship at Columbia

Having used the cooker in their own Rocheport, Missouri, backyard, they were encouraged by Columbia’s local Big Green Egg distributor to consider competing. Nothing like jumping into the State Championship for your first experience.

Denise explained that they use the Big Green Egg’s own charcoal plus some hickory and apple wood for their smoking. They don’t brine their chicken and they “doctor” commercial sauces and rubs. She had just removed a dessert pizza from one of the cookers that she was testing for tomorrow’s optional desert category. It tasted fine with cream cheese, strawberries, pineapple and chocolate.

Like at other sites on this competition eve, the team seemed relaxed while they concentrated on preparations. Mark was carefully trimming the thick layers of fat off a brisket while Trevor Fowler spread yellow mustard on another followed by a dusting of spices. Having already been told that mustard on brisket was more deep south than Missouri, I wondered to myself if that was a wise choice.

Plowboys BBQ

Randy Hinck of Plowboys BBQ is no neophyte having won Reserve Grand Champion at the Roots, Blues and BBQ’s 2010 competition. A hog farmer by profession, he has a different take on both cookers and fuel. Randy’s cooker was the largest I’d seen, nearly a furnace, and it burned natural wood pellets. The pellets are fed into the cooker, an electric hot rod starts the burning and then a fan keeps things smoking. “With pellets the higher the temperature the less smoke,” Randy told me, “I’ll cook for four to six hours at 180° to generate smoke. Once I have the smoke set on the meat I turn it up to 225° for several hours. Then I’ll wrap it and raise the temperature to 250° until I have it done.”

Uses 100% natural oak and hickory

He explains that what the judges want to see “first and foremost is the meat cooked properly…and that’s one of the reasons I cook with wood pellets. 100% natural oak and hickory….I can pretty much set and forget it.”

Despite the spacious kitchen trailer, which includes sleeping space, Randy’s Plowboys BBQ team tonight consists of only he and his son, an agricultural student at the University of Missouri. “He’s the official taster,” says Randy. “Guys at work always give him a hard time, “You’re always criticizing your Dad’s food how come you don’t cook?” “Well it’s all good,” his son replies, “It’s my job to pick out what’s great.” I’d say that makes for a good team.

Natural Born Grillers

As I entered Jayme Johnson’s cooking site, a mahogany colored 600+ pound whole roasted pig complete with an apple in his mouth and flowers over his eyes stared placidly at me. As Millie Rambis, the BBQ Competition Coordinator explained, “It’s a good BBQ party on Friday night.” Jamie had spent 16 hours slowly roasting this magnificent specimen for his friends to enjoy, and man it was tasty.

“I’ve tried lots of woods, but I like pecan wood for smoking,” was Jayme’s take on the many sources of fuel, “I get it from a local farmer in exchange for several slabs of meat.”
He’s been competing for twelve years, but “I’m a pipe fitter by trade.” Before creating the team “I competed by myself for over eight years, but it’s pretty overwhelming.”

Many teams cater events

It seems that most of the teams members have day jobs, make the extensive barbecue competition circuit throughout the region and cater events. Jayme’s “doing a whole hog for a wedding rehearsal dinner in three weeks.”

Like all the contestants I spoke with, Jayme creates his own variations of available sauces and rubs, but it was his entry into the optional dessert category that was intriguing. “I’m going to do a butterscotch raspberry creme brulee for the dessert competition with a little dark chocolate on top. It’s a lot of fun.”

And the winner is….

Jay Curry’s Spicewine Inronworks took First Place in Chicken with a perfect score – the soy sauce brine worked. Remember our BBQ competition virgins, Smokin’ BarbEGGque and their mustard slathered brisket? On their very first try, they placed Fourth in Brisket out of 60 competitors. Believe me, when I stopped by their site the next day they proudly displayed their ribbon, and they agreed with Jayme Johnson, “It’s a lot of fun!”

 

 

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Rocheport, Missouri: The Town Time Ignored

Rocheport rests on the languid banks of the Missouri River enjoying its place in the Nineteenth Century. Is that Lewis and Clark approaching town?

Take away the blacktop on the narrow village roads and I could be strolling the Rocheport of a century ago.

Missouri River at Rocheport

 A visitor can meander along the serene Missouri through a tree shaded path and travel nearly across the state.

Yates House B & B

Superbly decorated, staying at the Yates House B & B completes the illusion of being a 19th century house guest with old friends.

Rocheport, Missouri: a destination that will calm your soul.

 

School House B & B

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For the Love of the Grape on the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail

For me, traversing this bucolic region, l’arte del fare il vino – the art of making wine – seems more la storia d’amore di fare il vino – the love affair of making wine.

the wine shop at Cherry Valley Vineyard

 

Big Creek Vineyard & Winery
Big Creek Vineyard and Winery and Sorrenti Cherry Valley Vineyard are two of the vineyards on the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail in northeast Pennsylvania that make for a pleasant weekend getaway.
named for Dr. Dominic Strohlein’s grandmother – Big Creek Vineyard

Sorrenti Cherry Valley Vineyard

 

the garden for catered events at Sorrenti Cherry Valley Vineyards
the garden for catered events at Sorrenti Cherry Valley Vineyards

 

 

 

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Uncommon Chefs

Chef/Manager Dan Stripp of Shawnee Inn’s The Gem and Keystone Brewpub

Gem & Keystone Brewpub’s Dan Stripp and his team of “artists, skateboarders and rock stars” are unconcerned they’re on the cutting edge of national trends.

 

Gem and Keystone Brewpub: (clockwise) Limestone Springs Trout with Asian sauted vegetables, cold smoked Baby Back Ribs, Soft Pretzels with Cheddar Ale Dip, Lettuce Wedge salad with Calkins Creamery Blue Cheese, Jumbo Lump Crabcakes

Sous Chef Corey Scott could have inherited his family’s 480 acre resort but why do something predictable? Sous Chef Travis Dente, a dishwasher a few years ago, created the recipe for their cold smoked wood grilled baby backed ribs with a deep flavored smoky BBQ sauce that sent me over heaven.

Sous Chefs Travis Dente and Corey Scott of Shawnee Inn’s The Gem and Keystone Brewpub

From India to rural Pennsylvania, Chef Gaurav Navin brings a world’s experience to Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort’s menu using locally sourced products.

 

Chef Gaurav Navin of Shawnee Inn’s River Room

“I knew where the kitchen was in my house but that was all.”

(clockwise) The River Room, Shrimp Tandoori, White Haven Sauvignon Blanc, Duck Confit with Asian 4-spice blend, Stuffed Grilled Lamb Chops

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Shawnee Inn’s Own Local Sourcing

Great Shawna Island Farm at Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort

Pennsylvania’s Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort takes food sustainability seriously, and creates profits, taking food from their farm to their tables.

 

Shawnee’s beekeeper Erin Schroll

ShawneeCraft Brewery: aging beer in oak casks & hand bottled
Foodshed Alliance products at Shawnee Inn’s Tuesday market

 

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Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort: Preserving Pennsylvania’s Best for a Century

Jackie Gleason learned how to play golf at Shawnee in 1959

“Out with the old and in with the older.”

Shawnee’s Centenary motto

 

On Pennsylvania’s Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort’s spacious and secluded grounds guard bees congregate on the porch of the hives providing ventilation for the life of the queen. Six varieties of tomatoes, white eggplant, Chinese five-color peppers and multi-colored chard thrive in the middle of one of America’s oldest award-winning golf courses. Micro-beers are being bottled by a former electronics engineer of advanced defense weapons. Goat cheese is delivered fresh from a local farm. The mist on the Delaware River swirls through the tree-covered Pocono Mountains, and Frank Sinatra’s voice croons softly through the 100 year old lobby. This is the 21st Century?

 

The River Sanctuary
Shawnee Inn (1911)
guard bees in the Apiary – they’re providing cooling ventilation for the Queen
Chinese 5-color pepper at the Shawnee Farm
The Verandah at Shawnee Inn
The Inn in the evening

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