Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Part 6- My Vision

One out of two ain't bad

Chris from Dizzy Pig gave me some great advice about a year before as I spoke with him in New Holland 2006 about starting my own team, “get a group of folks that share your vision and you won’t go wrong”, he said. As simple as this concept seems, it is not always achievable. In our case, however, I think it was. I knew I had a good group of guys, as all were my friends for many years, but in addition to the friendships, everyone was excited about the idea in general. Everyone was looking forward to the upcoming season to see what we could learn and to see what this competition cooking was all about. In short, I think I had found four friends that shared my vision. I considered myself very fortunate.

As a part of my vision, I wanted to do a test cook at my house simulating contest conditions complete with turn in deadlines and a full load of contest meat at some point before our first official event. In addition, I thought it would be a good idea to set up a site as if we were at an event and do all of the prep work under contest conditions. One reason was to see how things flowed, the other was to try to make sure we would have everything we needed when we were on site. I was trying to eliminate and or reduce the bugs and or gremlins that might (would) arise at our first contest appearance. I planned to erect the easy ups, tables, the whole works, from the trailer, making a list if there were items we did not have on board, after all, when we were at a contest, we could not run into the garage to get something we had forgotten. I had cooked each of the meats separately in the preceding months. However, as of yet, I had not orchestrated a cook involving of all four meats at once as we would in a contest. Keeping in mind that in a contest, each category is due ½ hour apart, starting with chicken, ribs, pork then brisket. For each turn in, there is only a 10-minute window. I felt a trial run was a “must do” before attempting under contest conditions. The others felt the same and we picked a Saturday in early May for the test.

We picked 5:00 PM as the first turn in time on Saturday and we invited a few friends to drop by to act as the judges and help eat up the proceeds. I pulled out my notes and figured backwards from 5:00 to determine when the big meats would have to go into the cooker. Friday night I prepped all the meat in the kitchen with the help of Erich and Mike. So much for the plan to do it all outside, a busy day at work cancelled out the plan to set the site as we would at a contest. Oh well, we would do the best we could, maybe we would have time to set up a site in the morning.

At the appointed time early Saturday morning, I started the cooker and loaded the pork and brisket. As the day wore on, I checked on the meats and monitored the temperatures. When needed, the meats were wrapped and the ribs were started. Things rolled along pretty much on schedule. The only thing we did not get to was setting up the site. I had set up a few tables that I was using to cook and wrap the meats, but that was it. Site building would have to wait. As the meats finished, they were removed and placed into the cooler to be held until needed.

Al and Bobby could not make the test cook due to other commitments, so it would be Mike, Erich and I on our first run. When Erich arrived, I asked if he would be interested in prepping the boxes. He said that he would, and “the lettuceman” was born. I explained to him what Dale had shown me about the green lettuce used as a garnish in the boxes and he was off. Since this day, Erich has really taken to his job and responsibility. He went on line and looked at pictures of other teams boxes and read what information was available, all in the quest of the perfect box. His wife Sandy said one night over dinner, “why Erich, do you only aspire to be the lettuceman, when you could be so much more? You should set your sights much higher”. We have had many laughs and gotten a lot of mileage out of her question since that night, but the truth of the matter is, Erich has become very good at box preparation. He works to prep the boxes and have them ready in plenty of time before they are needed, he also assists during the box building for any last minute touch ups or alteration needed with the garnish. One third of the judges’ score is on the appearance of the product in the box, it is the first score given to the box when presented to the judges. It has been said that one eats with their eyes before their mouth, so needless to say, box presentation is very important to the overall outcome of the competition. We are very fortunate to have Erich as our “lettuceman”.

Mike, Erich and I worked to get the meats finished and into the boxes for the scheduled turn in times. I explained when I could, about what I was doing and why, as Mike and Erich have never been to a full KCBS contest turn in. We built the boxes and took pictures when we remembered and had everything in on time. After everything was in, we sampled all of our food along with our guests and everyone offered their opinions. This was very helpful to have the thoughts of other people on the foods we had prepared.

Overall, we were on time, our product was pretty good, it looked halfway decent and we had some fun, a pretty successful test run. Not bad for a first time cook of the 4 KCBS contest meats on a timed schedule, but I also thought, and there wasn’t much disagreement, we still had a long way to go. This was not a walk in the park, especially if we wanted to do well, we would definitely need some tweaking. As for the construction and layout of our site, it looks like we will be winging that one when we arrive at our first contest, I just hope we do not forget anything. Oh well, one vision out of two ain’t bad, we were batting 500 and had not even been to our first contest!

Everything was coming together, the team assembled, our schedule selected, we were gathering the needed equipment, we had our cooker, and had even cooked a full contest load of meat. We were ready to go, well almost, what was our team name? Inquiring minds wanted to know. This would require some thought. A team name, how hard could that be?

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