Saturday, September 18, 2010

Norwalk, Reserve Grand Champs

I went into the Norwalk BBQ Competition with a lot on the line. While Q Haven had some recent success in grilling contests, the BBQ results had been less than stellar to say the least. The lone exception being 1st place ribs at Harpoon this year. Aside from that, I had not had a really successful BBQ contest since 2008 Harpoon. Sure we had calls, but were never really competing for the win.

That all changed in Norwalk.

I went into this contest with an "all in" mentality. There was over $20,000 in prize money and I wanted to bring home as much of it as possible. There were 15 different categories over the course of the three days, and we entered all but two, whole hog and people's choice chili. I needed to have some success, not just for the winnings, but because my morale was sinking with each mediocre finish.

One positive from the start, we had a good contest site. We had a vendor selling frozen lemonade next to us, and he basically gave me an extra 7 feet of his site. Gave us much more room to maneuver. The Chili Bomb lemonade guys Peter and Roger were great to hang out with and also kept us drowning in tasty mixed slushes all weekend.

Our site.

We started Friday with the people's choice chowder contest. It appeared at first that our team was doing well, but then I realized that we were located behind most of the other people's choice teams. We had much less foot traffic than the other teams on the main drag had. However, we did our best and finished 6th, receiving 17 votes from the public.

Friday had also brought an Iron chef category. Sheila and I had only done an Iron Chef once before, and it really didn't go very well. It went much better this time. They gave us skirt steak and asparagus as the ingredients. We made marinated grilled skirt steak with asparagus risotto. The dish was really very good, but the risotto needed another five minutes of cooking. Ended up 11th out of 17 teams, but this was a definite improvement from our first Iron Chef attempt in 2008, more in process than results.

Saturday was grilling, and the people's choice wings. The grilling went quite well overall, which is why I was fuming after the awards ceremony, where we got no calls. However, this was partly because they only called to third place. When we got the scores, it turned out we were 4th in sausage fatty, 5th in ribeye steak, 6th in dessert and 7th in seafood, and 5th overall. If they had just called the names of teams in the top five we would have heard our names twice and felt a little better about ourselves.

People's choice wings we finished 11th.

Anyway, I felt better when I saw the scores. Got the brisket and pork on Saturday night, got in better spirits and had a fun late night.

After midnight, I was walking around with a few friends visiting other sites, and my feet were just killing me. In the middle of the road between rows of teams, there was a folding chair. I sat down, and Steve Farrin sat in another chair that was there. Mike from Lakeside Smokers and Brendan from Transformer BBQ then pulled up chairs, then Mr Bobo and people from other nearby teams brought over chairs as well. Before we knew it, there were around a dozen people sitting around a fire that had been carried over, a bottle of Jack was going around the circle, and we had a great time.

Also early Sunday morning, reinforcements arrived. My brother Cristiaan and his fiance Kim arrived to provide much needed support Sunday. Cristiaan also was cooking the sauce category.

Quietly, my sister Kathleen has also become an integral part of our team. She helps out wherever needed, whether it is watching Max, doing dishes or anything else. She is also part of our garnish team, which gets better every contest.

Sheila really gets credit for our improved appearance scores. She has taken the garnish role and ran with it, and every contest our boxes get better.

Sunday morning, I was able to sleep an hour later than usual. I changed my timeline so I did not have to wake up until 6:45. My old timeline called for me to wake up at 5:45. It is amazing how much that extra hour of sleep helped me, I felt great.

The cook was very smooth and relaxed. Chicken was about as good as I am capable of cooking it, and came in 5th place out of 35 teams. The ribs were solid too, but I botched the appearance, which really hurt the scores. Ribs were 16th.

My pork has been improving. Since it bombed in New Hampshire and at Harpoon, I made some changes that appear to be helping. The pork box was probably the best one I have ever turned in, and it came in 4th.

Brisket, well, you just know. While you never really know how well it will score, you sure as heck know whether you have cooked the brisket well or not. This was a good brisket. I really nailed the timing of the brisket cook, and it showed. First place. Felt awesome.

That call got us close to winning the whole deal, just not close enough. Normally, when you have three top five calls in a contest with 35 teams you have a pretty good chance of winning. However, when a team like I Smell Smoke takes a 3rd, a 2nd and a 1st place in three of the four categories, it's hard to win. However, we were reserve grand champions, which was awesome. A real shot in the arm for me and for our team.

Since I was off work for the whole following week, I decided to stay over with Mike and Kris of Lakeside Smokers and celebrate the great finish and extend the weekend a little longer. After everyone cleared out Mike and I went to a local bar and had a few Jack and Cokes, a satisfying way to end a great weekend.

Thanks to the organizers who run this contest. They have been bashed on forums for certain aspects of the event, which I found cheap and unfair. Overall, they really try to run a great contest, and for the most part are very successful. What other contest in New England offers $23,000 in prize money? Free lobster dinner with clams, fries and corn? These guys didn't go to Dunkin Donuts, they cooked breakfast for the teams each morning themselves. Is the contest perfect? Of course not, there is no perfect contest. But these guys should take a bow, then start planning for next year.


Sledneck said...

Congrats on the finish. I really didn't see any of my comments regarding the contest as cheap and unfair towards the organizers. Just stating an opinion that most likely didn't affect any part of the contest.

Ted Lorson said...

Honestly I have no idea who said what. Most of what I wrote about was second hand because most of the comments were scrubbed away before I got a chance to read them, and heard about them from friends after the fact. But clearly there was a lot of bashing of this event, and by more than one person.

At the end of the day, it's a shame that a contest located less than an hour from New York offering over $23K in prize money was only able to attract 35 teams.

Sledneck said...

Its a shame that they dont have a lower entry fee....