Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Grillin' On The Bay

No Sleep Till Brooklyn!

We were unsure whether to travel down to Brooklyn Friday night so we wouldn’t have to get up at 3:30 AM to get to Grilling On The Bay Saturday. We decided not to spend $150 on a room and just get up early. Probably the right decision. One of the few right decisions of the contest.

We did pretty well at the event, got one call for 5th place fish, and took 7th overall out of 24 teams, including several very good ones. Not a bad showing, especially since grilling has been our Achilles heel in what has been a pretty successful run since Q Haven first competed last May.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It was just Sheila and I heading down to Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn for the 2nd annual Grilling on the Bay. We were hoping Cristiaan would be joining us, but he couldn’t get out of work.

I was very excited to be cooking this contest. I was born in Manhattan, and lived either in New York City or the Westchester suburbs until I was 25 and moved to Connecticut, with the exception of my time in Alabama at college. I worked in Manhattan for more than four years, and have a real love of NYC. Also, an impressive slate of 24 teams made this an event not to be missed.

Since we weren’t going to stay overnight in Brooklyn, we had to get up at 3:30 AM in order to drive the nearly three hours to be on the site before seven AM. The only problem is that we were up until nearly 11 PM prepping for the contest, so we didn’t get a whole lot of sleep.

We got to the St Mark’s school at around 6:45, and it was great to see nice weather for the second straight week. We were sited next to the Anchormen, who we knew from other NEBS events, and Richie’s Rib Shack, who is an accomplished chili cook, but was trying competing in grilling for the first time.

I had a whirlwind two weeks leading up to this event. I was up in Vermont for a few days before Snowshoe, competed in that event, then was out a few nights leading up to Brooklyn celebrating, as my birthday was Tuesday. I made the decision of what to cook kind of last minute. While I feel our food was pretty good, we would have scored a lot better if I had stopped and thought a little harder when deciding what to cook.

The first category was chicken breast. I decided to do two barbecued whole chickens, then detach the breasts and slice them across the grain, turning in the juiciest middle slices. It ended up pretty good, and we took 6th in the category, just missing the call.

Next was fish. Last week at Snowshoe, I took 5th place by doing grilled swordfish, lightly rubbed with lemon pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and a little Old Bay, then topped with a garlic butter sauce with fresh parsley. I did the exact same thing in Brooklyn, with the exact same result, 5th place.

It was nice to walk again....

Next time, if the fish must be submitted in six pieces I will make sure they are more uniform.

Next was pork. I decided to do pork tenderloin with a maple glaze. However, since I had four tenderloins, I decided to throw a couple in the smoker and see how they came out. I liked the flavor, and decided to go with the smoked ones instead of the grilled. However, when I hit them with the maple glaze, it didn’t seem quite right. I had no choice but to turn them in, and it didn’t score too badly. Tenth place.

Finally, the last category was chef’s choice. I decided to do shrimp, and we themed the box with an Asian motif. Sheila came up with some great ideas, with a bed of Japanese rice noodles and little bundles of carrot, red pepper and baby corn tied together with scallions. The shrimp were grilled with a soy ginger glaze.

The judges loved the presentation (999887), but killed us on tenderness. The shrimp scored 18th.

I should have thought about this a little more. The first three categories were chicken, pork and fish. Hey dummy, what’s the natural fourth category? Beef!

Two of the top five finishers cooked steaks, and the winner made mini hamburgers. Bet those were some damn good burgers.

Also, the pork category allowed for ribs. That’s what I should have cooked. It was ribs that got me into competitive BBQ in the first place. A few of the top teams in pork cooked ribs, including category winner Lost Nation and fourth place Smoke In Da Eye, and probably a few others. I feel we would have given them a run for their money.

In any case, I always second-guess decisions made when they don’t lead to success. But I feel the seventh place finish is real progress. While barbecue is largely patience and practice, these grilling events require more culinary skill. It’s making me want to learn more about cooking, real cooking, which in turn will make the BBQ better too.

I’ll stop rambling. Big thanks to Robert Fernandez (White Trash BBQ) and Matt (Hampton Smoker), the organizers of the event. Also, congrats to Ray Depot and Bob, the Anchormen, who cooked some great food and were grand champions. I tried their pork, which was tenderloin with a mango stuffing, and it was excellent.

This was a great experience, and I will be sure to attend the 3rd annual Grillin’ On The Bay next year!