Thursday, September 30, 2010

Westport Invitational

After a successful weekend in Norwalk, we decided to cook an invitational contest at the Blues, Views and BBQ on September 25th in Westport CT. I was hoping to build on the success in Norwalk, and hopefully win a contest for the first time in a while. Came close.

While there were only six invitational teams in the running for cash and prizes, there were also 23 backyard teams. Most were locals cooking for the fun of it, but there were some teams with a little experience in the field too.

The one complication for me was that because of space limitations, I would not be allowed to bring our camper/trailer to the contest. It is a toy hauler, and is where I keep all my BBQ contest gear. This meant that I would have to get everything we would need for the contest into our Ford Explorer. This meant I had to pack tight.

Got to the site behind the Westport Library at around eight Saturday morning, and it was clear that I was one of the last teams to arrive. In order to hit my marks I had to have my cooker ready by 9, so I wasn't worried about the time. If I knew how tight it would be I would have come earlier.

I ended up with exactly one parking spot to run our whole cooking operation. While it was tight, I packed light so it was not a big deal. What was a big deal is that the team next door did not have a dish station and were washing their dishes under an athletic water cooler, which was running right into my tiny site. I usually don't make a stink but I had to be a jerk and tell them to stop. Three bins boys!

The cook went along well. Categories were chicken, ribs and chef's choice, followed by an iron chef category. My chicken takes less than two hours, so there was no urgency. Got the ribs on right on time, and the day moved along without any problems.

My chicken has been pretty consistent lately. I have developed my own program for chicken that is easy to execute and the results are consistent. It came out about as good as I can cook chicken, and took 2nd place for the invitational, and 4th out of the 29 teams.

The judging was different than what I expected. I thought that the six invitational teams would be judged by the same judges, but our food was mixed in with the backyard teams and sent to different tables.

Ribs were right where I wanted them to be too. They took 2nd place in both the invitational and among the total 29 teams. A little more spice would have helped but I was happy overall with the results.

Chef's choice, I decided to go with filet mignon with Bearnaise. I ended up pushing the envelope with the timing and barely got the steaks up to temperature. While they were cooked properly, I missed the short resting period before slicing, and I think it hurt the overall final product. Chef's choice was 3rd overall and 5th out of 29 teams.

The final category was an iron chef deal. At 3:30 p.m. they have us a pork tenderloin, along with a bag of vegetables that included a sweet potato, an onion a red pepper and a zucchini. We came with a pork tenderloin recipe (they have us pork tenderloin at the same contest in 2008 so we took a shot). Ended up doing a bacon wrapped pork tenderloin stuffed with apple and sausage, finished with apple butter. For the vegetables, we made a risotto. Overall was a solid dish but just missed the mark, finished 6th out of 15 teams that participated in iron chef.

In the end, we missed winning the contest by less than five points, not a lot in BBQ scoring. We lost to Steve Zeravica's team R2BQ, who brought in two established BBQ teams to assist, one to do chef's choice and one to do iron chef. So I keep telling myself that it took three teams to beat us. (Just breaking your stones Sled!) I'm sure they all cooked some great food.

Anyway, it was a good day for us, got some really nice trophies and a little dough for our efforts.

While a lot of teams don't like dealing with the public, there was no way around it here. People were right on top of us all day, and I did my best to accommodate people with their questions and requests for samples. My favorite encounter of the day was when a woman tried our chicken and asked whether I injected it with heroin.

So it looks like that's how Q Haven will end our season. We started it with a reserve grand championship at the Snowshoe Grilling Challenge in March and finished it with a reserve GC at Westport. There were plenty of highs and lows in between, the highlight being 1st place ribs at Harpoon and the low being Black Sunday at New Paltz.

Fortunately, I have one final event this year. My good friend Mike Boisvert of Lakeside Smokers has invited me to come cook as part of his team at the Jack Daniel's World Invitational BBQ in Lynchburg, Tennessee at the end of October. It's the 2nd straight year Mike has invited me to join his team for the event and I am honored to go again.

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.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Scenes From Norwalk

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Time Lapse Turn In Box

Message from Ted:

A lapse look at Q Haven building our turn in box for the seafood category at the NEBS grilling contest in Norwalk CT 9/10/2010. My Flip cam has this "magic movie" time lapse video feature and here is my first offering.

Oh and we cooked grilled salmon with maple mustard glaze and it came in 7th out of I believe 16 teams.

Click on a video below to watch it:

Q Haven Building A Seafood Turn in Box
Video Length 1:39
Click here to watch

Flip Video

To learn more about the Flip Video Camcorder, click here.

Some Pictures From Norwalk

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Q Haven Takes Reserve GC At Norwalk!

Q Haven took 1st place brisket, 4th place pork and 5th place chicken and earned reserve grand championship honors at the BBQ Pit at the Norwalk Oyster Festival. Was a great weekend for our team. Congrats again to I Smell Smoke for another strong victory.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry