Category Archives: Food

Beer, Dick Tracy and Peanut Butter

Columbia, Missouri, in America’s heartland, embraces sophisticated dining and imaginative culinary trends while celebrating down home ingredients.

Columbia Dining: Beer, Dick Tracy and Peanut Butter

Dick Tracy at Ernie's Cafe

Ernie asked Chester Gould if he’d autograph his wall and the result was the original poster sized sketch of the iconic 1930s sleuth that graces the entrance to Ernie’s Cafe and Steakhouse.

beer flights at Flat Branch Pub & Brewing

The names of 38 beers are printed around the border of Flat Branch Pub and Brewing but their beer menu lists over 100.

Firelight Pizza Company

When was the last time you came across a portable wood fired brick oven on a city street?

Sparky's Ice Cream

Unfortunately Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream, 21 S. Ninth Street, known for their very small batch exotic flavored creations, sold out of their Brown Sugar Chocolate Cicada Ice Cream.

Peanut Butter & Bacon Mashed Potatoes at Bleu

Peanut Butter & Bacon Mashed Potatoes was inspired – three simple ingredients taken to new and delicious heights for the simple reason “why not.”

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Columbia Dining: Beer, Dick Tracy and Peanut Butter

City Support for Sustainable Agriculture

Columbia and AgriMissouri is putting money where its mouth is supporting farmers markets and sustainable agriculture.

Carolyn Todd, Market Director, “Local is not 1,500 miles away,” as she informs me that membership is open to producers living within a 55 mile radius of Columbia.

Walk About Farm's honey

5,000 Columbians a day patronize the market.

Eric and Chert Hollow Farm garlic & herbs

Despite my love of garlic, and being a chef, I was unaware that garlic originated in ancient Persia.

Read more at Suite101:

Columbia Farmers Market: City Support for Sustainable Agriculture


Columbia Star Dinner Train: Bygone Elegance Revived

This past July, Mark Vaughn realized his dream.

The crystal clinks, the linen is crisp, the silver plate gleams and outside the picture window the late summer Missouri farmland slowly glides past.

Brunch on the Columbia Star

Read how Mark got his train….

The Columbia Star Dinner Train restores a bygone elegance 

Les Bourgeois Vineyards

It’s best if you do not suffer from a fear of heights while standing in front of the towering window walls inside Les Bourgeois’ Blufftop Bistro. The panoramic vista of lush countryside hundreds of feet above the Missouri River could distract you from Executive Chef Arron Wells superb cuisine.

Read more at Suite101:

Les Bourgeois: Fine Wine and Dine in Rocheport, Missouri

An Inside Outsider

Millie Rambis warned me that, “They usually don’t let anyone from the outside into the judging tent, but since you’re from the outside maybe they’ll make an exception.” I was writing about the competition at the invitation of the Columbia, Missouri, Convention and Visitors Bureau, but “from the outside” sounded ominous.

Award Trophies: Grand Champion & Reserve Champion Trophies are hand painted vintage guitars

An Inside Outsider: An Exclusive at the Roots, Blues and BBQ Festival

The Kansas City BBQ Society does not allow observers inside judging tents until one Philadelphia chef and writer was given an exclusive scoop.

Millie Rambis warned me that, “They usually don’t let anyone from the outside into the judging tent, but since you’re from the outside maybe they’ll make an exception.” The very affable Millie, an event planner at Columbia’s main music venues, the Blue Note and Mo Jo’s, both owned by Festival impresario Richard King, has worked for the past year as BBQ Competition Coordinator and served as my liaison for two days of interviews and observations. From the “outside” sounded ominous, yet I guess it worked.

Fifth Annual Columbia, MO, BBQ Competition

Since midnight, surrounding the white tent that will house more than 70 certified judges, 60 teams have been diligently concentrating on preparations for the Fifth Annual Barbecue competition which is an integral component of Columbia, MO’s Roots, Blues and BBQ Festival – warming cookers with their own combinations of woods and charcoal, trimming briskets, brining chicken, applying rubs to pork shoulders and getting very little sleep.

Judge Ron Pinchott from Milwaukee tells me that, “Teams can consist of everyone from a basic laborer to a CEO. BBQ bridges all areas and genres. The competition circuit starts in February and goes to November all around the country. Some teams make their living at it.”

Bill Watkins was Columbia’s city manager, as well as being a certified BBQ judge, when the Festival was first conceived five years ago. He was an enthusiastic supporter and instrumental in city participation. “The original organizers wanted a unique event. They not only wanted to bring in the best blues music, but they wanted other things to attract people and BBQ is this All American event.” Attendance each year averages 60,000 nationwide.

All certified by the KC BBQ society

All the judges are certified by the Kansas City Barbecue Society having completed a basic course and, when time dictates, refresher classes. Some are Master Judges having scored over 30 contests and participated themselves in competitions. Certification can be achieved as young as 16 years old. Present today were judges from Wisconsin, Oklahoma and throughout Missouri. One was a University of Missouri journalism student who became a judge at 15 – just before the new minimum age requirement went into the rules. He was here with his dad.

It’s not an easy task. Barbecue is as regional and individualistic a preparation method as food can get. In central Missouri sweet tomato based sauces are favored while just a couple hundred miles east in Memphis they prefer spice rubs over sauces. In the deep South mustard based sauces are the norm and in the Carolinas they like a vinegar tang. Even wood preferences change: hickory, pecan, apple, oak, cherry and, in the southwest, mesquite.

Linda Schowalter, certified judge and responsible for the computer inputing and calculation of the scores says, “In the training, we try not to tell them how the scoring’s done, but what to look for. But to be honest, if someone were to turn in a mustard based sauce it probably won’t be scored very high because the judges here aren’t used to that. You talk to the different teams and they’ll use the seasonings of the region they grew up in, but if they travel out of their area they’ll change.” In competition they have “to please the judges.”

The Judging Criteria

Prior to the start of judging a recording summarizing the KC BBQ Society’s rules is played followed by a formal recitation of the Society’s Oath administered this day by Mike McMillan, official representative of the Society and chief supervising judge. Texture, moisture, tenderness and ease of pulling meat off the bone are emphasized.There are reminders that smoked chicken may appear pink near the bone, yet if it pulls away easily it’s properly cooked. Because of this issue I noticed a number of contestants deboning their chicken when I conducted interviews the night before. Thighs were favored because of fat and dark meat content (moisture).

Ron Pinchott’s take is, “Try to be open minded. Sometimes people put too much emphasis on presentation. We always remind ourselves we’re judging the meat, not the garnish and the sauce.” They have to mentally divorce the seasonings from the methodology.

Double Blind Judging

The procedure’s known as double blind judging. Each contestant’s styrofoam box arrives with its team number – no names – which is immediately covered by the supervising judges with a second sticker containing the teams corresponding computer score sheet number. To keep taste buds clean, no judge may smoke during the process and they freshen their palates with saltine crackers and water. No spouses or other household members may sit at the same table. Silence is enforced during judging and judges pledge, among other criteria, to have had no prior contacts with contestants that day.

Tasting the competition

Tasting the entries was not open to the general public because of Department of Health regulations, but since I was an official observer, I was allowed to sample the leftovers along with the volunteer assistants. The smoke flavors were surprisingly understated, almost subtle – not at all like one just walked out of a burning log cabin.

•The chicken, both boneless thighs and legs, were moist, tender and sweet with sauce.

• Ribs were succulent, meaty and fell off their bones. My first sample’s sweetness was complimented by an even smokiness. Yet another sample surprised me with a spicy hot pepper rub that worked well with its deep smoky flavor.

•Pork could be presented sliced, pulled or cubed. All samples were very tender and ranged from sweet to salty to salty/pepper spicy. Generally they were less smoky than ribs.

•The brisket was my personal favorite. Coming from the East Coast I’m used to braising this cut of beef. But here the fat is trimmed, rubbed with spices and/or sauces and smoked for up to 14 hours. The slices are firm – no flaking like braising can cause – the smoke flavor is subtle and the texture is butter soft. Mike McMillan commented, “This spoils even us for BBQ brisket. Most restaurants can’t afford the prep and cooking time.”

And the Winners

Grand Champion: Political Pork ($2500 plus invitation to the American Royal)

Reserve Champion: Blazin’ Blues ($1500 prize)

1st place in each category: $750
•Chicken: Spicewine Ironworks (perfect score)
•Ribs: D2 BBQ
•Pork: Muddy BBQ
•Brisket: TrueQue (perfect score)
•Dessert: Up in Smoke

And my prize was participating as the first “outsider” to get an inside look, and taste, of this hospitable and enjoyable event.

 

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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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