The largest event we have ever cooked in the Northeast took place this past weekend in New Paltz, the Hudson Valley Ribfest at the Ulster County Fairgrounds. We cooked at New Paltz last year and really enjoyed ourselves, and were excited to be returning.
This year, we did things a little differently. First of all, we have our trailer now, and we were able to pay $25 extra for a larger team site. That was the best 25 bucks I have ever spent. Our site was huge, around 30 feet wide and 80 feet long. This gave us more than enough room to operate. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I knew going in that this was going to be a difficult contest for me, logistically. I had granted one of our reporters vacation for the whole week, and in a nutshell that meant that I could not take off Friday. In addition, the only way that I could leave early for the three hour drive to the contest would be for me to switch with another of my guys and work the early morning shift. So Friday morning, I had to get up at 3:30 AM in order to be in Hartford by 4:30. That was not fun.
The earliest I was able to leave was after my 11:00 AM newscast. I had to run and pick up the fish, stop and get ice, then load the trailer and hit the road. By the time I packed everything and got going, it was 3 PM. I had to stop and dump the trailer's grey water along the way, and was finally at the contest site at around 7:15 PM. And nobody from the team was going to be there until early in the morning, so I had to set things up all by myself. Fun.
I got a basic setup done and decided to take a little time to relax. I Smell Smoke! was the team directly next door, and they were just beginning movie night with a screening of "The Jerk." Everything was very relaxed until a massive crack of thunder stunned everyone. Soon afterwards, a massive line of thunderstorms slammed the site, complete with high winds, hail and torrential rains.
That would have been bad enough. But an apparent microburst hit the site, reducing numerous pop-up tents to piles of twisted metal. Fortunately, we were not affected by the storm at all. We were very lucky, as our tent was not tied down when the storm struck. Here is a picture of some of the tents after the storm, photo stolen from the NEBS web site.
Late Friday night, the team started to arrive. Cristiaan was able to make it around midnight, and Kathleen and Jon came a short time later. Even though I had been up since 3:30 AM, it was so much fun hanging around with the different teams that I ended up staying up until 2AM.
Saturday was the grilling contest. Everything went amazingly smooth for us all day. Now that we have done more than 10 competitions, we seem to have the timing and the flow of the events pretty much down. That makes the competitions so much more fun and less stressful. Forty-one
The first category of the day was fish. We decided to do swordfish as we seem to do in all of the events that have a fish category. However, instead of garlic butter, this time I decided to go with a champagne mustard sauce, and it hit. Fish was 2nd place.
Lamb was the second category. I decided from the start that we would do grilled rack of lamb. However, Sheila doesn't like lamb, so we never really eat it. That left me at a loss for a finishing sauce. I considered a simple mint jelly and later a Cumberland sauce, but we ended up settling on a rosemary au jus. Scored OK, 10th place.
Next was sausage. On August 1st, I ordered some sausage that is supposed to be awesome from a place in Texas to use in this contest. Someone called me a week later from the company and said it would ship Monday and I would have it Wednesday. it never showed up, so I had to scramble. I decided to use a "fatty" recipe I have been working on, and it came out awesome. 2nd place sausage.
The last category was steak. I decided to try and replicate the 1st place steak that I had cooked two weeks ago in Maine. However, that was a sirloin steak category, this one was steak of any kind. I only turned in one full NY strip steak, and it looked alone and empty in the box. The melted gorganzola cheese didn't really work out either. 30th place steak, really hurt our chances of being grand champs.
So overall, we were 4th out of the 41 teams that participated. Pretty cool.
Saturday afternoon/evening was great. My brother Eric, his wife Laurin and three of their four kids came up to hang out Saturday afternoon. We cooked up a whole bunch of ribs, beef ribs, hamburgers and wings, and just hung out and enjoyed the great weather. It was a fun and relaxing day.
Saturday night, we started cooking for the BBQ event Sunday. The evening was relatively calm, and we enjoyed hanging out with I Smell Smoke!, the head of the BBQ Brethren Phil, the guys from Muzzle Brake and so many others who were partying down.
I woke up around 6AM Sunday to start the smokers for the BBQ contest. 57 teams competed in the Q event. Everything was going pretty smooth at first, largely because Cristiaan stayed up really late to tend to the smoker with the brisket and pork in it. However, trouble emerged when I put the ribs on. I walked away for a short time, and when I came back I saw that the temperature had spiked to 280!
Any little thing can drastically change the end result of BBQ, especially ribs. All of our ribs were in that same smoker, and all were affected. The ribs just didn't turn out that great.
The first turn in was chicken. I have been working on a new recipe, and it just isn't coming along as I would like. 36th place.
Next were the ribs, which ended up 24th.
Pork came next. Our best entry of the day, 18th place.
When I cut the brisket, I thought it was our best entry. It was very tender and moist. The judges disagreed, 35th place.
For chef's choice, we had to use apples in the entry. We did an apple stuffed pork tenderloin. It scored pretty well with five of the six judges. The last one gave it a 3-5-3. Don't even get me started on that. 25th place.
We finished 22nd overall for the BBQ event. It was our third competition in four weeks. That and both Sheila and I being very busy with work, I ended up having a lot of fun and blowing off steam instead of paying attention to some cooking details. But overall, it was a great weekend. We did really well in the grilling event, and came very close to winning. I will fix the BBQ problems. We are taking a few much needed weeks off, with a small catering job September 1st.
We are not going to compete at Lowell. Sheila and I are planning to go up and hang around one of the days instead. Hopefully we will add another competition to the schedule before the end of the year, but as of right now, we have nothing set in stone yet. We're looking forward to some much needed R&R.