Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

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The Core of Cooking

Performing while cooking

It wasn’t until Joey and Michele Rusek sent me a pic of Michele cooking a dessert ancillary on her chimney with the caption, “inspired by Vic” and I responded to with #ChimneyCartel and a “LOL” (I would’ve put a laughing emoji but I’m still learning this young hipster stuff). However, this got me to thinking about cooking and the fun one can have doing it. Honestly speaking, this is why I started because it was supposed to be fun, the way it was as kid when I’d stand on a chair to help my mom. So in this spirit the Chimney Cartel was born. So, I’ve come up with three core values which, for me, has become my cooking and comedy mantra and is at the heart of the Chimney Cartel and really, cooking in general.

  1. Cooking should be experimental. Have you ever had a cook make a beeline to you with a fork and a dish as they holler, “Here, try this.” Almost before you have time to swallow they ask, “Whatta think?!” With all the times I’ve had this happen it’s a wonder I’m not the size of a house, good thing I go to the gym (it’s in the same lot as the pizza joint). Experimentation should be what cooking is all about. It’s with these experiments of trial and error you learn to put spices together, expand your skill set and overcome any fears or apprehensions you may have. I know you’ve heard me say this before, but a day without learning is a wasted day. It’s exciting to walk into the mysterious then come out with something amazing. The great example of this is when Thomas Edison was confronted with all the times his lightbulb experiments failed to which he responded, he hadn’t failed, he just learned a bunch of ways it wouldn’t work. Become a student of cooking.
  2. Cooking should be a teaching opportunity. I’m a teacher at heart but not a fan of the traditional classroom which is I never really enjoyed being a college professor. When I’m performing, I enjoy helping the younger new comics with a joke, their stage presence or with some frustrations which come with the business, it’s just what I do. When I’m at a competition or teaching a BBQ class I look at it as an opportunity to instill passion in others then cultivate it to the point the students become the teachers. For this I harken back to the days when I was just a kid, when many of us were just kids, learning from our parents and grandparents. Licking the beater (especially when mom turned it off) was a reward for all of our hard work in baking a cake or making a pie. What was really happening is, Mom was instilling in me and my brother a love for cooking like she had. I watched her encourage my daughter who is now a pastry chef. This occurred because she wasn’t too busy to be a teacher.
  3. Cooking should be fun. This one phrase is at the root of not only the Chimney Cartel but should encompass any cooking endeavor we undertake. You’ve seen them at competitions, haven’t you? Taking it so serious, they alienate themselves from other competitors and fans. It’s my contention that cooking can be done to perfection while having fun doing it. The great thing I’ve learned about fun is, it’s contagious, which can provide for you the opportunities to be a mentor and drive experimentation. When passersby watch you having fun with food, then maybe they’ll give this cooking thing a try. My mantra for the most part is, “If it ain’t fun, then why do it?”

Before you hop on Facebook to join the Chimney Cartel (like all the other cool kids) turn those three pillars in questions to ask yourself. Are you willing to be experimental (learn stuff) when it comes to cooking? Are you willing to be a teacher (mentor) to all those who come to you for knowledge? Are you having loads of fun cooking? If you can answer yes to each of these, then you’re not only ready to become a member of the Chimney Cartel but more importantly, ready to be a great pitmaster, grill master and cook.

Speaking about communication

BBQ Equals Pals

Pals #ThinVic and steak World Champion, Eric Hodson of Boars Night Out BBQ Team

I love westerns. Everything about them and what they represent – good guys always win, being outside, and loyalty. One of my favorite (non John Wayne movies of course) is the classic, Young Guns. This movie has it all, gun fights, adventure and pals. Billy the Kid, in the movie, used this word “pals” a lot to describe his band of Regulators, especially those closest to him. At the end of the movie (spoiler alert) someone carves pals on his headstone. In real life, however, Pals is carved right into the marble and there’s actually a cool story behind it but I’ll leave that to you to research.

Who needs pants when you are taming the west?

While watching this movie again for the countless time, I began to notice some similarities with this and the BBQ life especially when it comes to pals. They came from different backgrounds and regions but yet these band of brothers were linked by a common goal and mutual desires. As I look around at the pals I’ve made in BBQ, we’re the same. Classically trained chef’s alongside backyard cooks all discussing the best way to smoke a perfect brisket or grill a pineapple upside down cake. The best part of this is these “pals” treat each other as equals because they know they each can help the other become a better cook.

Out on the BBQ circuit we make a lot of casual friends and acquaintances but pals ratchets up friends another notch or two. These casual friends/acquaintances are all over our social media friends list and when we’re at the latest cook-off we’re cordial, even inviting them in to our site for a drink. But “pals” are those whom you can call when you’re stuck in the mud or just want to hang out. Most immediate example of this is the Mini Pot Mafia started by fellow Team B & B Ambassadors Mark Lambert, Eric Hodson, Allen Smith, & Malcolm Reed. There’s no trophies on the line, no major cash prize just a bunch of pals who’ve invited a bunch of other pals to hang out and cook in a 1-quart pot.  Why? I think there’s two reasons for this. First, they just enjoy hanging out with each other. They’re “pals” who can call on each other when the chips are down but more than just that, they genuinely like one another.

The second reason and another attribute of being a pal is they aren’t afraid to learn something from some each other. Hanging around with these guys I’ve heard on more than one occasion, “What do you think if we tried this? You think it’d work?” What impresses me the most is these World Champion Competitors aren’t afraid to try new things and teach it to their pals. I sat listening to Mark at Memphis in May talk about doing some sort of Argentinian style of cooking and the next thing I know, at the American Royal he is setting up this contraption to try a new way. I say this all the time (and this won’t be the last time you read this from me), “A day without learning something is a wasted day.” Successful people know this and it’s displayed in how they live.

Pals love seeing their pals succeed and aren’t intimidated by it. When I was in Memphis in May this year, the team I was cooking with, Boars Night Out, got a top three call. In a nutshell, this means the top three in each category must give one more presentation for the judges. This can be nerve racking because the judges judge everything not just the food. They look at your site, the presentation (eat with your eyes remember) and the actual verbal presentation long before they take a bite of your food offering. When this happened for BNO, teams from everywhere came to see if there was anything we needed. In front of our site was a mud pit (it’s called Memphis in Mud for a reason) but while we were concentrating on the table side presentation, someone brought all of their sod to cover the mud. I still don’t know which team it was, but this is just what pals do.

This is what BBQ means to me, relationships, friends, partners, or just pals. Better still, to me BBQ is family.

Writer’s Block

Trying to get something written

I have something I need to admit to you today. It’s not something I’m proud of nor am I eager to let you in on my secret. This is the thing about secrets, they are secrets for a reason. However, a new buzz word going around is transparency. In the spirit of being transparent I’ll let you in on this. As much as I like you, I’m not going to tell you all of them, baby steps for right now. So here I go. You might want to be seated. Well, in case you didn’t know, I have Writer’s Block. Yes, I know it’s horrifying but as nervous as I am for opening myself to you like this, I do feel better.

Writer’s Block is one of those impediments a lot of people suffer from but not a lot of people take seriously. For someone who considers themselves a creative person, this setback can be cataclysmic. Most of the time this debilitating hindrance is temporary but even temporary is a subjective timeframe and at the moment feels like it will never end. When I was a wrestler in high school we had to work out almost every day. Often during those workouts, we would hit the proverbial wall which seemed impenetrable, I couldn’t push any more. My limit met until my coach came yelling for me to push through the pain, which I did and the lessons had been learned.

This can also be said of having a Writer’s Block difficulty, you just have to push through it. When I don’t feel like writing a blog (vicclevenger.com), article or even a joke I must push myself to get past this wall of interruption. The best way I’ve found to do this is, well, write. I get my journal out and put my pen to paper, not lifting it until I’ve completed three hand written pages. This allows me to get my mind off of this wall blocking my creativity until I find the door allowing me to write again.

However, I need to take steps in preventing future relapses of Writer’s Block. When I look back on those days I’ve suffered from Writer’s Block, I noticed there has been gaps in my daily journal writing. So, I need to take those extra efforts to write even on the days I don’t really feel like it. When I open my journal and put words on paper sometimes it’s a little rough but when I’m finished I’ll have something I can use in some aspect of my writing life. Prevention really is the best medicine when it comes to Writer’s Block for all who write, create or just try to deliver their best but find themselves hindered from their goal.

I also have noticed I’ve allowed myself to become distracted from my goals. Do you remember the movie Batman Returns? It’s the one with Danny DeVito as the Penguin. He had a goal of seeking revenge on all the kids of rich folk because he felt cheated from his birthright until Max Shrek (Christopher Walken) steps in suggesting he could be Mayor. Go watch the movie and realize distractions do happen but it is up to you to regain your focus when it does.

Do what you can to prevent your own version of the crippling Writer’s Block but when you come face to face with it, then I hope you can find what helps you to refocus and get back on track.

Brand Loyalty

When I was growing up back in Kentucky I began to learn about loyalty early, especially brand loyalty. When I would help my dad work on the car I noticed he was particular about which spark plugs and oil he used even as others were less expensive. When I asked him why he chose this one as opposed to the other, his response was simple, “It’s a better product and I like it better,” which I call “His Loyalty Statement” and you can’t get much more precise than that. His loyalty to his favorite brands/products taught me a very valuable lesson for when I came of age and began to choose for myself.

The first thing I learned was quality matters. “It’s a better product” not only rang true for car parts but when we would build a deck on the back of the house and other aspects, I quickly realized quality was important. The phrase ‘good enough’ implies this is already not as great as it could be. In the book, Good To Great, Jim Collins opens with, “Good is the enemy of great.” The premise is when being good is enough then you fall short of being great which usually only requires a little bit more effort. Now that I’m an adult I have to decide for myself, when choosing a product, how important quality is to me which I’ve concluded, you get what you pay for.

The next thing was there needs to be a connection. When Dad told me he “just liked it” there was a connection as to why he liked it. Sometimes it was because it was recommended by someone he respected, it was tested or a number of other reasons, such as he just liked it. My brother and I loved to eat peanut butter as kids (truth be told, it’s still my favorite snack) which we ate by the bucket. Mom, in an effort to save on the family budget, chose to substitute our Peter Pan with some generic brand because it came in a bigger bucket which meant she didn’t have to buy it as often. Immediately we noticed a difference because it didn’t taste the same nor was as good and bottom line, we just didn’t like it. Needless to say we went back to the brand we liked and pretty much saved the peanut butter industry. Just so you know I still have Peter Pan in the cupboard.

These two lessons shape a lot of what I do and what I purchase as well as what I will put my name behind. There are tons of products out there which claim to do this or that but when it comes to where the rubber meets the road or in this case, the coal meets the fire, does it hold up to what it claims? If it doesn’t then I may use it to get by in a pinch but I’m quickly moving on to the quality product with which I have a connection. When you have these to lessons in place when choosing a product, no matter if it’s as big as a house or as little as a briquette, you’re going to feel much better and those you share your life with will be much happier.

Summer is a time for Adventure

Summer has…well what has it done? Spring has sprung. Autumn falls upon us. Winter blows in with its cool breeze. But what do we say about Summer? Well anyway, Summer has begun and with it life continues on its blaze of filled calendars. Trips are planned and shows are being booked all the time. I have something going on almost every month for the rest of the year. Then we try to discuss when to take a vacation to get away from the hustle and bustle. The Keys perhaps or the Mountains will be in our future.

But this time of year takes me back to a time with life was less chaotic and revolved around what fun I could get into today. Once the day was over thoughts of what to do tomorrow turned into dreams as I would drift off to sleep. Summer, for a child was what made life worth living long before we had to think about making a living. When asked by adults, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” was answered with well thought of responses. I’m going to be a cowboy, army man or maybe a pirate would be on the list depending on the day and what fun thing we were doing.

Growing up in Eastern Kentucky, my brother and I would run the hills behind our house looking for whatever we could find. Somedays it was Bigfoot or a monster living in the woods but it didn’t matter because each day was a brand new adventure. We would joke, if someone escaped the nearby prison and chose to hide out in those woods, there wasn’t a person in the county who knew those paths better than us. Some were made by animals on their trek to find food while others were blazed by us searching for our daily quest.

Summer left us with no snow to shovel where we would earn a couple dollars shoveling snow off driveways. But never fear when found our money maker when we discovered several blackberry patches. If you’ve never gone to the woods and picked wild blackberries, then you really have had now adventures in your life. My brother and I would trek off with 5 gallon buckets in hand and fill them every time we went out. Well, we would have filled them every time except we ate a lot of them. Yes, without washing them. Then we put them in jars or containers to sell to the neighbors. No, we didn’t have permits but back in those days people encouraged kids to work. Summers would smell of blackberry cobbler in our neighborhood.

As summer is upon us I miss those adventures of youth. A time when kids played, explored and dreamed of adventure. I know I’m about 4 days into Summer but starting today, I think I’ll make Summer an Adventure again.

Lead With Your Left

With Dad and Elisabeth at her graduation

With Dad and Rebecca at Bass Pro Shops

Yesterday was Father’s Day and what a difference it is than Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is full of flowers, diamonds and dinner she didn’t have to cook. Then you have Father’s Day where there’s no flowers, no diamonds and most of the time dinner is cooked by Dad, himself. Now usually they are nice big steaks and he does a way better job anyway. However, if the kids decide to surprise him by going to his favorite restaurant they encourage him to get whatever he wants on the menu. Which he does because he knows his favorite people are going to pay for it with his credit card and he doesn’t mind at all.

However, when you celebrate Dad you can’t help but think about all he has done for you as you grew up. The stories of how he walked to school uphill both ways in the snow even during summer permeated my childhood. Truth be told, my dad grew up where I grew up in eastern Kentucky and there are a lot of hills there. He ran those hills all summer long mostly without shoes. So he taught me to tell great stories to my kids as grew and continue as the occasion warrants. He took me and my brother fishing at Grayson Lake when one of the coolest things happened. 20 or 30 yards out a snake was swimming along when we made a bet that Dad couldn’t hit the snake with a rock. Well not only did he hit but the rock hit the snake square on the head.

If your childhood was like my childhood you helped your dad work on the family car a lot. Replacing spark plugs, changing the oil and if you’re my age you can remember helping to adjust the headlights so they didn’t shine up at a tree instead of the road at night. Also if your childhood was like mine, your helping work on the family car was more about holding the flashlight steady. We had to put a deck on the back of the house and I was finally allowed to help. I got to hammer, haul lumber and paint. Come to think of it, this helping dad work on something wasn’t really that much fun. I take that back, it really is one of my fondest memories even if I did jam a nail into my foot jumping off.

Then there was the one thing most dads teach their boys, lead with your left. He didn’t want me picking fights or being a bully but he did want to make sure his boys knew how to handle themselves if the need arose. For me, it arose a little more than the average kid and I remembered those words, “Lead with your left.” I enjoyed this so much I joined the boys club and took up boxing but this is not what my dad intended because he knew my competitive spirit. He just wanted me to be able to handle myself, lead with my left.

One of my questions I asked my dad was why lead with the left when my right arm is dominant? The left is me weakest but it still serves a purpose. It would keep my opponent at arm’s length setting them up for the knockout punch. When you’re in a fight like this you will probably land more punches with the weakest hand but this doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Now it won’t ever be as effective as your right hand but is still an asset in getting the job done.

In their book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton wrote about our weakness never being our strengths. They write about us putting so much effort into our weaknesses trying to make strengths which they’ll never be. So their premise is let your weaknesses be just that and focus your attention on improving your strengths making them stronger. However, I contend and I think Buckingham & Clifton would agree, work on your weaknesses to make them stronger so they will actually accent or aid your strengths. The greatest of all boxers was nothing without leading with their left.

Dreams, Goals and Aspirations – Part 2

Teaching at the NBBQA in Ft. Worth, TX

I loved being a kid with all the adventures which comes with it and I had several. On more than one particular Saturday, I climbed trees and lurked through the woods like Tarzan. If only I had vines and a monkey to live in a tree house. Mom said I wasn’t allowed to pretend my little brother was my monkey. There are pictures of me with a cowboy hat and a pair of six shooters just like the Lone Ranger wore. The Lone Ranger with his sidekick was a superhero to me and I would dream of riding the west with him placing the bad guys behind bars then quietly slip away.

As I grew older fishing began to fuel my passions and I still love to go wet a line whenever I can. For Christmas and my birthdays gifts revolved around fishing. Subscriptions to fishing magazines, tackle fishing poles and more saturated my wish lists. My brother and I subscribed to Bass Pro Shop catalogs devouring what they had to offer. We dreamed of fishing on the big circuit with our heroes, Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston and Roland Martin (two of whom I’ve met). We even tried saving money to buy our very own Bass boat. Do you know how many quarts of blackberries you would have to pick and sell?

Then career thinking began to form in my head because every time I’d turn around an adult would ask me the question, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” I honestly didn’t know but what I did know is I enjoyed being on stage with no problem with people looking at me. Back in the day it was called, “Being a Ham.” So what can I do with what skills I have? I’m a talker. I’m a teacher. Well, the teacher part came later of sorts but talking, I had that down pat. Maybe at the time I was a diamond in the rough but I did know I could stand in front of people at talk.

With each year the dream of being a talker has taken many forms. A preacher, college professor, corporate speaker and comedian each having their own challenges as well as joys. But this dream continues to evolve but the core remains and that is one of being a talker. Now I’m wrapping up food, specifically BBQ, into this aspiration of being a great talker, teacher and writer. The question still remains, however, “Why do dreams change?” The simple answer is I get older and my interest continue to evolve.

Looking for my place in this world using my passions to make a difference and leave a legacy has steered me to where I am right now. Years of speaking, writing while dabbling in a little cooking has brought me this point where I want to bring a message to people using food. Robert Frost talked about a road less taken and this is where I find myself on this day. The Lone Ranger me of years gone by never had a clue the Lone Ranger me of today would be where I am. Nevertheless, I’m here because as I got older my dreams, goals and aspirations have change. Remember our example last week, Danica Patrick, with all the changes she has gone through in a year? She gained maturity and with that came a change in her dreams, goals and aspirations so do not be afraid if yours do the same.

Dreams, Goals and Aspirations

Dreams, Goals and Aspirations come with their challenges. Much like pioneers had when trying to cross the Grand Canyon

Dean Martin is credited to have said something to the affect, “Dreams are for lazy people. I don’t have time to dream, I need to get out and work to achieve what I want.” However, as we look to what we want out of a career, hobby and live in general, we’ll use the terms in the title almost like synonyms. Perhaps they are, but regardless of that, if you want to achieve whatever you call it, you’re going to have to get out there and work for it. But don’t be surprised if while chasing one, you find yourself following the path toward another, sometimes leaving the other behind.

One glaring example of this is race car driver, Danica Patrick. I say race car driver because it’s how most of us recognize her. This year though she walked away from it all to pursue other aspirations which in my opinion wouldn’t have been possible without the race cars. She spent many years pursuing this dream, which will undoubtedly land her in racing hall of fames for a number of reasons. Only woman to lead an Indy 500, get the pole at the Daytona 500, win an Indy race just to name a couple. Because of this she broke stereotypes and was an inspiration for many young girls many of whom may not even follow racing but they know her.

Some may remember her from her early racing days as the GoDaddy girl. As beautiful and fit as she was (and still is) it was her charisma which projected her from the TV screen into our living rooms leading us to GoDaddy to build our websites. It was probably a part of her contractual agreement as they sponsored a big chunk of her racing but it didn’t matter, they saw her modeling value. I’ll venture to say it became a dream of hers to be a world class model as well as an athlete which furthered the brand of “Danica.” She popped up everywhere as a model who knew what she wanted and got it but it’s changed somewhat now. We still see model Danica but not as much and not the same way.

If you’re like me, you follow her on social media and have noticed the transformation of her dreams. This year with the running of the two biggest races, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, she said good-bye to her racing dream. I had just mentioned we don’t see her modeling in the same way either, perhaps she’s even winding that down to pursue her new dreams, goals and aspirations. She is now business mogul Danica Patrick. Her Instagram is full of her exercising every single day when I struggle to make it to the gym three days a week. As I watched her through Instagram she began to post her balancing handstand challenges, which now represents the struggles of achieving a life balance. As she worked and worked to achieve this goal, I noticed there began to be less and less racetrack talk in her posts. Looking back on this, it’s as clear as day but in the moment I didn’t realize her dreams, goals and aspirations where changing. She may not have even noticed it but it has taught me a huge lesson. A lesson we all know and have espoused ourselves but may not have even caught on until now. The lesson? Things change.

Pretty simple, huh? Danica is that phrase, in a positive and inspirational way. She has shown us not only do things change, but Dreams, Goals and Aspirations can be those things which change. Even modifications to the original dreams, goals and aspirations is still a change. What I would like to do over the next few weeks is to examine together why they change. The answers can be somewhat simple while others may be a little more complicated (but rest assured not too complicated, remember who’s writing this). Regardless of what we find out I hope its insightful and helpful as your Dreams, Goals and Aspirations continue to evolve. So stay tuned to the Monday Morning Blogs as we discover more together.

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