Que & Cruz Louisa, VAComments Off on Que & Cruz Louisa, VA
This year’s annual Que N Cruz did not fail to impress. We need to get more teams to this fantastic contest in 2019.
This year’s annual Que N Cruz did not fail to impress. We need to get more teams to this fantastic contest in 2019.
By Brian Walrath, MABA BOD and Pitmaster for Brown Liquor BBQ
Congratulations on your recent victory on Chopped! You sure made the Mid-Atlantic proud and represented the great state of North Carolina well.
Thank you! Being part of Chopped! was a great experience and I appreciate you asking me to share a little about it.
How did you prepare for the show?
When I got confirmation that I was going to be on the show, I binge watched every Chopped! episode I could find, mainly just to get a feel for how to handle the mystery ingredients. I put myself in the shoes of the competitors and paused the TV after each round’s ingredients were revealed and I’d try to think of as many dishes as possible to make with those ingredients. I think that exercise really got my brain working in the right direction. I also paid attention to the available pantry ingredients and the personal tastes of the judges. Looking back I’m not sure if any of that preparation helped me. Once you open the basket and the clock starts ticking, you have to act on instinct. There’s not enough time to make well thought out decisions.
What were you expecting? Was it anything like you anticipated?
I didn’t really know what to expect but I can say that I was surprised by the amount of production that goes into a single episode. Competitors show up before 6AM and if you’re lucky enough to make it through all 3 rounds, you don’t get out of there until around 11PM. That’s a 17 hour day of filming a show that only airs for an hour, with only an hour and 20 minutes of actual cooking. I had no idea it would be that involved.
I also didn’t expect the high level of security and secrecy about the show. When you walk in, they make you empty your pockets and take everything away from you except the clothes you’re wearing. You don’t get it back until it’s time to go home. There are security guards at every door and the competitors are escorted everywhere, even to the bathroom, throughout the day.
But the set, the judges, sequester rooms, and the clock are just like you see on TV. Walking into the Chopped! kitchen for the first time was a really cool feeling.
Who did you think was your biggest competition in the NC pitmaster show? Were you surprised by any of the results?
I knew that I would be competing against 3 other North Carolina cooks in the first episode. While I didn’t know who they would be, I had some ideas of who the producers might have chosen to represent our state. So, I was not at all surprised to see Jerry Stephenson of Redneck Scientific and Christopher Prieto of Prime Barbecue at the studio. They are 2 of the most well-known NC BBQ guys out there. I didn’t know Melanie Dunia from The Pit in Raleigh, but anyone who watched the show saw very quickly that she has some serious skills. With that caliber of competition, I really felt like I was the underdog of the group and honestly I was surprised each round that I wasn’t the one who got chopped.
How did it feel to win the NC show?
To win the NC episode was an amazing feeling and something that I really had not even considered a possibility. It really elevated my pride having world renowned chefs giving such positive feedback on what I consider everyday NC dishes. Having success using dishes that were inspired by my family and my childhood made it that much better.
What was your expectation and plan going into the finals?
I had no idea who I would be up against in the finals. Based on my experience and the judges’ comments in the North Carolina episode, my primary goal was to work faster and manage the clock better so that I would have enough time to focus more on the presentation of my dishes. In the first episode, I simply ran out of time and felt like I left a little something on the table in each round so I really wanted to make sure that didn’t happen in the finals.
What are you most proud of having done this experience?
I’m extremely proud that I was able to showcase some of my heritage and give a look into my family who has been a major influence on my love of food and cooking. When people from other states think of North Carolina, they usually think of the big cities like Raleigh and Charlotte. But most of North Carolina is made up of small town people who are poor in economy and rich in heritage. Being one of those people, I was really proud to bring small town NC to a national stage.
What one thing would you change if you could looking back at either episode?
If you watched the finale, then you know I got chopped because I served some undercooked turnips in my entree. I used the greens from the turnips in my chimichurri sauce, so technically, I would’ve been fine not using the rest of the turnip. With that in mind, if I could go back and do it again, I would just stick with the greens and not screw around with the rest of the turnip.
Would you do it again?
100% without question I would do it again. The whole experience was a lot of fun and I’m grateful to have been a part of it. I would really like to do a true grilling competition that takes place outside using charcoal, wood, and fire. Maybe they’ll bring back that format and give us all another shot.
What was the hardest part of the experience?
There were a lot things that were challenging: working in a kitchen you’ve never been in before, having limited ingredients, not knowing what’s in the pantry and where things are, not knowing what utensils you have to work with, etc. But I didn’t realize the hardest part until the morning of the finale. Filming Chopped! is physically and mentally exhausting. As I mentioned earlier, the episodes start filming really early in the morning and it’s not over until late at night. We filmed the NC episode on a Wednesday, I spent a little over 12 hours on Thursday filming promos and other things, and was back at it for the finale on Friday morning bright and early. Factor in the periodic adrenaline rushes followed by sitting around waiting for producers throughout the day and you get exhausted. Having to find a way to push through the exhaustion was without a doubt the hardest part.
What was the best part of the experience?
So many good things have come out of this experience, but the best has been the support shown by my BBQ friends and family. The nights of the episode airings I really thought my phone was going to melt because of so many calls, texts, and messages. The BBQ community is awesome in so many ways and this is just one of them.
You’re also having a great year on the KCBS circuit with your most recent GC at Crisfield, MD at Smokin on the Dock of the Bay. Tell our readers a little about that day.
2018 is shaping up to be a pretty good season for OCS. We’ve fallen short for one reason or another several times this year but we’ve been blessed with some good luck too. The Crisfield contest was one where luck just went our way, I think the margin between GC and RGC was around .03 points. We turned in 3 solid boxes and 1 not so solid and the points just fell in our favor. The venue for the Crisfield contest was awesome. We were lucky enough to get a spot in the grass right up against the bay. Anybody who did not participate in that event this year should definitely give it a look for 2019.
You’ve been competing a lot more this year. What contests do you have left on your calendar for 2018 and what are your goals moving forward?
We have. The contest count in 2018 has gotten out of hand quickly. We were initially thinking of competing in 17-20 this year but we’re at 21 now with a few more on the schedule to finish out the season including 2 great contests that are less than an hour from home: the Eastern Carolina BBQ Throwdown in Rocky Mount, NC and the Currituck Heritage Festival in Powell’s Point, NC. The goal for the rest of the year is to stay consistent. We’re close, but not quite there. Hopefully we’ll figure out the secret to consistency and finish the year strong.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’d like to thank everyone for their support throughout the whole Chopped! process. As I mentioned before, that was by far the best part of the experience. I’d also like to put in a plug for the Currituck Heritage Festival. I’m sure everyone has seen that this event has been rescheduled for the first weekend in November of this year. They have an amazing venue with RV hookups, indoor showers, and first class hospitality. Anybody interested in adding one more contest to their schedule this year should really check this one out.
By Luke Darnell, MABA President and Pitmaster of Old Virginia Smoke
The annual Peak City Pigfest is always a blast! Held in the quaint downtown of Apex,NC, Graham Wilson and his Rotary put on a first class contest.
This year’s contest was no different, but had to deal with some massive thunderstorms that came into the area on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
Despite some pop ups and other minor destruction, everyone came out no worse for wear. With a cramped awards moved inside, the contest saw The Smokehouse Mafia claim RGC, with Old Colony Smokehouse winning their first ever GC! Way to go, Adam!
Congratulations to the winners:
GC: Old Colony Smokehouse
RGC: The Smokehouse Mafia
Chicken: Redneck Scientific
Ribs:Rocky Smokin Skullies
Brisket: Evel Que-Nievel
Full KCBS results here.
by Brian Walrath, MABA Board Member and Pitmaster for Brown Liquor BBQ
It’s always great to meet new folks on the KCBS circuit and hear about their experiences. I met Adam Hughes last year in Ayden, NC and I knew right away he was going to be a force in competition barbecue. Fast forward to this year and I’ve seen a lot more of that awesome looking black porch trailer! He came up to Fredericksburg for the VA Two-Step and then I saw him in Ayden the very next week. Well, wouldn’t you know he hit it big in Apex, NC in mid June at the Peak City Pig Fest for his first ever GC! I decided to feature Adam in this month’s IWTC. If you see that Old Colony Smokehouse trailer out on the trail, knock on the door and get to know Adam…great guy and true gentleman!
Congrats on winning the Peak City Pig Fest in Apex, NC. Describe winning your first contest?
Adam Hughes, Old Colony Smokehouse:
Thank you! Where do I start? The feeling of winning my first contest is indescribable. I’ve gotten lucky and had a couple of top 5’s in the last month but never in my wildest dream did I think a GC would come my way this soon and especially not in Apex at the Peak City Pig Fest. This event is one of the premiere events in North Carolina. The City of Apex rolls out the red carpet and everyone brings their A game. As the overall standings were being announced at awards, the math in my head told me I was in pretty good shape to make the top 3. When I didn’t hear my name called for 3rd or Reserve, my knees instantly got weak and my heart about beat out of my chest. I honestly don’t remember much after hearing my name called as Grand Champion. The pictures, handshakes, hugs, and congratulations were all a blur and the next thing I know I’m on the way home. It was an amazing feeling and really an overwhelmingly humbling experience to get phone calls, texts, emails, and Facebook messages from so many people I have met on the BBQ trail.
Did you feel like you had an especially good cook worthy of winning?
I was pretty happy with my turn-ins and thought I had a decent shot at a Top 10 overall finish. I knew chicken was on the money and thought ribs had a chance. Pork was good but not great and my brisket, which has been my best category this season, was a little tight but tasted good. Knowing the caliber of teams that were at this event, it was hard to be confident in anything other than 4 perfect boxes, but I thought if I could hit some lucky tables and manage 2 or 3 calls that might get me into the top 10.
Let’s talk about Old Colony Smokehouse…tell us where you’re from, about your team name, your team, and your competition set up.
Old Colony Smokehouse is based out of Edenton, North Carolina, which is about an hour south of Chesapeake, VA and about an hour inland of the Outer Banks. Edenton is a historic landmark, as it was the first permanent settlement in North Carolina. Edenton has a very rich colonial heritage, which is where the idea for “Old Colony” came from. “Smokehouse” seems to fit the old-fashioned, colonial theme better than “BBQ” or some of the other popular team names, so we just went with that.
I cook most contests by myself as a 1-man team. There’s no “I” in team though. I get a lot of support behind the scenes from my family and from my job which allows me to take the time and really focus on Friday and Saturday. Occasionally, a friend, family member, or even a fellow competitor will join me for a weekend cook which is always enlightening and always fun.
As for my competition setup, I cooked my first few contests out of E-Z ups which is fine when you have plenty of help to set up and tear down. But after the first time I cooked solo, in November, in the rain (and sleet), and had to tear down in the mud, and the rain, then drive 5 hours home, I decided I had to get a better setup if I was going to continue competing. I was lucky enough to find a used porch trailer for a good price and with a little DIY, I turned it into my competition home on wheels. It’s got all the comforts of home; a roof, a floor, heat/ac, hot water, TV, and even a bed along with plenty of space for competition prep.
I cook on a Stump’s Classic gravity-fed smoker. Coincidently, the contest in Apex marked my 1 year anniversary with this cooker. The 2016 Peak City Pig Fest is where my gravity-fed smoker made its debut. Making the move to a gravity-fed smoker from another type of cabinet smoker was a real game changer for me. Cooking solo, you need as few distractions and as few things to worry about as possible, and this smoker is absolutely worry free. It holds temp to the degree and recovery time is lightning fast, allowing me to focus on all the other stuff that’s going on.
How long have you been competing?
My first professional KCBS competition was in September of 2015, so almost 2 years now. I cooked 3 contests in 2015, 12 in 2016, and 9 so far in 2017.
What’s the best part about competition barbecue?
The people! Friendships and camaraderie among the teams, judges, and reps and also the event spectators. I’ve met some really great people in my short time in competition BBQ and have made some really great friends.
What’s the worst part about competition barbecue?
I think its an addiction. I have lots of hobbies, but that feeling of withdrawal on weekends when I’m not competing makes me feel like I should really seek professional mental help. Add to that dish washing and trying to analyze a score sheet while driving home by yourself after a contest.
You seem to be competing a lot more this year…is that true?
Yes. I’m on track for 17 this year, maybe a couple more if I can squeeze them in. Gotta try to keep the withdrawals at bay. Last year I spent a lot of weekends catering. While that’s guaranteed money, I have more fun at competitions so I’ve dialed back the catering some this year to spend more time competing.
Ok, I always ask our winning pitmasters this…what’s the one tip you have for those teams to help them break through and win their first GC or up their game in competition BBQ?
Funny you ask that because as I was cleaning out my trailer and taking inventory after Apex, I looked at the basket I keep my rubs and sauces in. I laughed at how few products I use now compared to when I first started. I would have never believed that you could win with just a handful of items. My tip would be to keep it simple and don’t try to overdo anything. Its more about underwhelming the judges than overwhelming them.
What’s in store for the rest of the year for Old Colony Smokehouse…the Royal, etc…?
Well, I mapquested directions to Kansas Speedway on the way home from Apex. Its quite a haul! Most of me wants to take advantage of the opportunity because it may not ever present itself again, but part of me thinks I’m not ready for that level of competition. I’ve still got a little time to decide on that one.
In the short term, I’ve got plenty of local contests to participate in, including a date in Richmond to try and advance to the Sam’s Club Finals in Arkansas. My buddy Rick Flora from Grate Smoke BBQ joined me in the local qualifier in Laurel, MD which was a huge help. It’s a bit of a reach for us to think we stand a chance against the teams that will be in Richmond, but we’re gonna give it all we’ve got and who knows, we might get lucky. That would definitely make my year, but I’m not going to be disappointed if we don’t make it. I’m ecstatic that we made it through the first round.
Really though, the primary goal for the rest of this year is to try and continue to improve consistency. I’m cooking a product that I feel good about, I just need to learn to do it every week like so many of the guys I look up to.
Anything else to add before we sign off?
Yes. First off, thank you for the opportunity to share a little about myself and Old Colony Smokehouse with the MABA members. I don’t get a ton of social interaction time at contests because there’s so much work to do but I really enjoy getting to know more about everybody out there.
Secondly, I’ve been very blessed to get awesome support from some great sponsors and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention them.
-Grill Billies BBQ Supply in Raleigh, NC and online at www.grillbilliesbarbecue.com
-Swamp Boys BBQ Sauces and Rubs
-Sweet Smoke Q Injections, Sauces and QDS drum smokers
-Mojobricks Wood Products
Lastly, I want to thank all the people who have given me tips, loaned me products, and done all the things the BBQ family does. There’s no way I can even begin to name them all but I really do appreciate it! As I said earlier, I cook most contests by myself, so if anyone ever wants to tag along or if any judges need to cook for their Master, I’d be glad to have a helping hand.
Best of luck to everyone for the remainder of 2017 and I hope to see you all out on the trail!