Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Category: Motivation

It’s All About Having Fun

Mom teaching Rebecca in the kitchen

“If you enjoy what you do then you won’t work a day in your life.” We’ve all heard this old philosophical statement before in some way or another. It won’t matter the long hours, sleepless nights or even the sweat you put into the task at hand if you enjoy what you’re doing. Everything from woodworking to laying wire to sales, if it’s fun for you then it isn’t work. This is why there is so much emphasis placed on doing something you love which will result in loving the alarm clock rather than dreading it.

I once had a job where I would wake up dreading the drive in. Every morning I had to deliver reasons to myself as to why I couldn’t quit this day. This is what I wanted my kids to avoid as well, but they fought me on this. One of my daughters is a great photographer and graphic designer. You know, she’s the creative, artsy type. I encouraged her to pursue this but her excuse, “If it’s my job, I won’t love it like I do.” So she went after an engineering degree then switched to business all because her artsy self kept calling. So now she runs her own business doing what I told her she should pursue to begin with. While she and her husband are going to be missionaries, this is still something she can rely on and have fun doing it.

My second daughter loves to cook, bake mainly but cook in general. She’s been like this her whole life but it didn’t dawn on her until she was a freshman in college. Just like her sister, I kept telling her what she should do with her life. Now before you get carried away, I was basing my suggestions on where their passions were not on my dreams for them. As any parent would, however, my dream for my girls has always been they do what makes them happy to get up in the morning. Too many people in this world lack “permission” (some just lack gumption) to follow their passions and dreams therefore drive to work wishing, dreaming of a different life. I didn’t want this for my girls, so suggest and steer them I did, the best way I could anyway. But you know teenagers, if your parent suggests it then a different road they will travel only to realize years later what they should’ve been doing all along (there are those exceptions where they find a new calling, better even).

Although my oldest tried engineering her freshman year, she quickly realized it wasn’t for her and knew then graphics and photography was for her. My youngest decided to be a teacher and has a heart for autistic kids but after a particularly difficult day she came home announcing, “I’ve had a rough day and I just need to bake something!” The light-bulb went off in her head along with talks with her mom, baking is the way for her to find joy in her career (neither girls wanted to admit Dad was right, but I’m ok with it). She is now the sous chef at a local university and happy she made the choice she did.

This is the final pillar for the Chimney Cartel, just have fun with what you are doing, especially when it comes to food. Turn your passion into more than just a hobby and perhaps you can wake up every morning with a spring in your step because you get to go do something you love.

I did a baking/comedy presentation at the Tasting Village

Chimney Cartel Pillar Number One: Explore

You’ve heard me talk about how the Chimney Cartel got started as a joke. Just something because I didn’t want to bring my grill to a steak competition. Since then I’ve been astounded at the popularity of this little movement. There’s a Facebook page, t-shirts, stickers and even a contest with plans to have more, one even in Australia. I could not be any more excited about the direction and potential growth this is experiencing. As the Cartel has started to grow and become more of a movement in the culinary world I decided to come up with three essential pillars I think not only contributes to the growth, creates excitement but gives the Cartel a direction for this upward momentum. So starting today and for the next two, I am going to explore these three pillars beginning this week with Explore.

When I walked into the steak cookoff on July 4th, 2018 with only a starter chimney and grill grate it was a little weird. Everyone around me had name brand grills ready to take home the $1000 prize so you can imagine the looks I was receiving when I never produced one. People stopped by to look, laugh and casually talk as they wondered if I was seriously going to cook on only a chimney. Do you remember those county fairs with the “special” attractions like the half boy half snake or the world’s smallest, well, anything? This is kind what it felt like. I was the “special” attraction and come to think of it, I should’ve been charging a quarter a peek and made a little money. What I determined was people were curious about what I was exploring. Can you win a contest with just a chimney and a grill grate?

Exploring something new is always exciting and this wasn’t any different. I’m a natural explorer and have been my whole life but never really even recognized it until now. Growing up where I did we had woods behind our house and every summer I, along with my brother, would explore those woods, going a little deeper on each expedition. From careers to interests, I’ve had this undying need to learn something new which will help me grow. This is exactly what exploring is all about and why I believe people are digging the Chimney Cartel. It’s a place where we can be the culinary equivalents to Lewis & Clark, just primarily outdoor cooking.

Being willing to explore opens up new worlds never seen before. It allows for trial and error, for learning and growth. Take a look Lewis & Clark for instance, they had the courage to go into unchartered territory to open up this country of ours. Now they weren’t the first people to go but they were the first to map it out for the rest of us to see and as a result, we grew as a nation. Explorer after explorer had this in them to learn and grow, this sense of adventure carries over into the Chimney Cartel.

If we aren’t willing to explore the unknown, the uncharted then how will we ever expect ourselves to learn something new? Exploring a brand new territory is where we thrive!

A Concert of Flavor

Layering flavors on a turkey for a holiday

This is a fun time of year especially if you enjoy wrapping paper, crowded stores and countless cookies to bake. As you sit here reading this, thoughts of what you have yet to accomplish during this final Christmas week race through your mind. You have questions about everything from the dinner menu items to stocking stuffers to the amount of invisible tape you have left. In the midst of all of this there’s the last minute family drop-ins,Christmas parties you “just have to go to,” then add in the Christmas caroling and/or Christmas Concerts to attend, which I go to be present for tonight.

I’ve seen a lot of concerts in my time including everyone from George Jones to Marvin Hamlisch. But tonight’s 10-person choir was at the very least, impressive. The five men had a vocal range of high tenor all the way to bass and the bass singer was a Barber Shop Quartet winner. Then there were the five women singers with ranges of soprano to low alto which I didn’t even know was a thing. If you ever get a chance to hear the Voices of Liberty at Disney’s EPCOT don’t pass it up because they will knock your socks off with their talents.

If you’ve ever listened to a well-trained vocal group whether it is a choir like I heard tonight or a quartet, then you’re probably like me and impressed with how they layer their voices together. Each voice so different from a high soprano to deep bass with everything in between and they sing in a way one voice doesn’t stand out above the other. Just when you think you can hear the baritone its blended in with the others, yet not masking or overwhelming it but rather complimenting it. Apparently this is called harmony and what a great harmony this group had tonight which resulted in a well-deserved standing ovation.

As I sat there listening to what could only be described as remarkable, I began thinking about food, more specifically about how we season our food. With every meal there’s a teaspoon of this and a pinch of that along with a choir full of other great stand-alone spices which, when brought together, should be sweet music to the taste buds. Just like sitting there tonight listening, if I concentrate I can pick out the individual “flavor” but it isn’t long until the collective takes over again which is far more satisfying. This is exactly how layering flavors should be after all, a savory chorus of seasonings coming together for the perfect bite. My buddy, Eric Hodson, a World Champion Steak cook says it this way, “I don’t want my flavors to be offensive to your taste buds.” He works hard at blending the right amount of pepper with the right amount of salt with the right amount of his signature rub, White Lightening, to come up with just the right bite.

With the holidays upon us along with the myriad of cooking we’ll be doing, pay special attention to the seasonings, allow them to bring sweet flavorful music to your tongue. Blend your spices like a well-chosen choir about to perform their greatest concert, because this Christmas (which is only 8 days away, in case you hadn’t thought about it) you will have a spread only rivaled by the one you prepared a month ago for Thanksgiving. Then once the meal is complete and your guests have loosened their pants to take an after meal nap, if you should hear, “WOW, everything sure did taste great!” take your bows because you deserve them for you, my friend, were the director of this concert of flavors.

Day Dreamer

Ralph Phillips holding up a submarine in his day dream

Growing up, as most kids, I loved cartoons. Bugs Bunny was and still is my favorite but there was another series of cartoons I always enjoyed staring a character named, Ralph Phillips. Are you familiar with him? Perhaps you aren’t by name but if you’re my age and looking him up on YouTube then you’ll surely remember. He was the “Day Dreamer.” Through each of his day dreams, even while in math class, his dreams focused Ralph being a heroic adventurer. Ralph dreamed of being a boxer, a sailor and a pilot who captures aliens wishing to take over the world. He even saved his parents from cannibals. Indiana Jones wishes he was Ralph Phillips.

Many people identify with Ralph in the day dreaming aspect. They sit in math class and dream of sword fighting the number 5 (this isn’t one of your dreams?). Perhaps you sit around dreaming about what you would do with the millions you would get if you won the lottery. Maybe you look at the person or people you admire and dream about being as successful as them. In Ralph’s dreams, they seemed so real, they were real, to him at least. How many of you husbands have awaken next to your wife who was because of something you did in her dream? Dreams are so amazing because they seem so real, authentic and you can be anyone you want to be in your dreams.

I like to think Ralph grew up and became a great adventurer in Toon Town but this is when dreams meet reality. This is often when the dreams stop however and punching the proverbial clock enters the picture. Your dreams have produced great ideas which often have you excited when you awake but then you shower drive to the job you hate and once again the dream is lost. A lot of factors go into this lost world and I believe once we discover what those areas are then changes, positive changes, can be made and dreams can become a reality.

Passion is a big part of turning a day dream into a day job. This is how I feel about communication and cooking. These days I get to combine the two passions into one big dream. I’ve been speaking, teaching and writing for years but now I add in the cooking aspect, specifically outdoor cooking. However, if you lack passion then your dream will surely stay just that, a dream.

Preparation is the first step in bringing any dream from the subconscious world into the real world.  When I was in college all I could think about was standing in front of an audience to impart knowledge and motivation. But I don’t give any speech without studying the subject, the company and making a list of everything I may need for any given presentation. This, however, takes effort and if you’re not willing to put in the time then your dream will stay on the pillow.

Patience is one of the most important aspects of taking your dream from the fantasy to the fantastic. This is also the most frustrating part of moving forward with this great idea you’ve got. I’ll be honest with you, this is my least favorite but I’ve come to learn this is when the I begin to see the big picture of my dreams. This is hard for some people because many just want the success now or faster. If you don’t learn to pace your dreams with patience, then they will be doomed to the dreamland of your mind.

I hope our star, Ralph Phillips, learned these three prongs of turning a dream to reality because I would just hate to think he left those adventures for someone else to have. The same is what I hope for you, make your dreams come true and live your adventure.

Chasing the Lion – Part 1

The other week while sitting in church our preacher quoted a verse of Scripture which intrigued me quite a bit. It was a story, within a larger story, but not a lot of detail was given. I guess it was more of a character story to impress upon the reader what kind of guy Benaiah was as he was listed among King David’s Mighty Men. Here is the verse I’m talking about – Benaiah chased a lion down into a pit. Then, despite the snow and slippery ground, he caught the lion and killed it (2 Samuel 23:20 -21). See what I mean? Did it capture your attention like it did mine? Let me help you with why I was caught by this.

The first thing was, he chased a lion! WOW! This is impressive, but why? Why would he chase a lion? Growing up in Kentucky I would spend all summer playing in the woods behind my house. On one of those summer days I remember climbing a tree and noticed a snake climbing the limbs just beyond me (probably dropped by a bird is my thought). Being who I am, I climbed the tree faster chasing that snake to catch it. Just as I reached for it, the snake lost its grip and fell to the ground. I know why I was chasing it but a little snake is a far cry from a lion. But why was Benaiah chasing this beast? We don’t know but I’m sure it wasn’t because he was just playing in the woods with nothing better to do. However, if one is going to chase a lion they should have a purpose for it.

You don’t face a challenge like a lion with no purpose for it. We all have some lion in our lives and for this article, this lion of ours is our dreams, passions and what we want to be when we grow up.  Perhaps this lion was eating travelers or was preventing the advancement of a plan but regardless of the why, he found his purpose in this moment and was able take the steps necessary to accomplish what he set out to do. Look at your situation and discover your purpose in this moment. Some purposes are temporary while others are long term but both are life changing.

Did you notice he chased the lion? Yep, that’s a weird one, unless your Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, but something tells me the lion in our story wasn’t of the cowardly and singing type. Once Benaiah found the purpose, he chased after it. He didn’t wait for it to come to him or for someone to lead him to it. He chased after it and did not let up until he caught it. If you are looking to accomplish anything, large or small, then you must chase after it regardless of the obstacles in your way (which we’ll discuss in our next blog). Whether you want to be a caterer, writer or comedian (your purpose) you have to decide if you have the gumption to chase that purpose. But lest you think it’s easy, there where obstacles, which brings us to next week’s blog. Work on your purpose for this week and make your preparations to chase it.

IMPACT the Pond You’re In

Lake Toho in Kissimmee, FL

Growing up where I did my brother and I did a lot of fishing. We loved it so much we’d get fishing gear for our birthdays and Christmas. We even had a plan to hit the pro fishing circuit. However, there were many a Summer afternoon when the fish weren’t biting and we would be bored. One of the ways I’d entertain myself on those lazy days was to wait until my brother was daydreaming then I’d toss a rock in just out of his line of vision. I’d ask, “Did you see that fish jump?” Of course, he wouldn’t be fooled so we just would just start skipping rocks and count the number of impacts each rock made as it sailed across the top of the water.

If you’ve ever done this then you know exactly what I’m talking about and how much fun it is. One of the most intriguing things, to me, is the ripples each impact makes on the pond, like little waves washing ashore. It has since dawned on me, with every impact, no matter the size, there is always a ripple effect. This ripple continues moving long after the initial impact has faded but because of the ripples the impact isn’t forgotten. This has got me thinking about the IMPACT one makes in his or her respective ponds.

You’ve undoubtedly have heard a variation of the phrase, “I’m just a little fish in a big pond” or “He’s a big fish in a small pond.” What each of these phrase reference is the IMPACT one makes regardless of the body of water they find themselves swimming. Too many rely on the pond to determine their impact and the size of the one made. But this simply isn’t the case. Everyone makes an impact, it’s the ripples which give the lasting effects. So here are a few tips on how you can IMPACT the Pond You’re In.

  1. Identify your strengths and talents. Have you heard those people, perhaps you’re one of those people, who says they have no talent or can’t do anything? This simply isn’t the case, everyone has a talent and many have more than one. You simply have to identify yours and if you can’t figure it out ask someone you trust.
  2. Mentor those around you (and be a mentee). Being someone another person can trust to help them grow is a great honor as many of you already know. Why do you know it? Because you recognize you are a mentor to someone but more likely than not, you have been mentored by someone you greatly respect.
  3. Passion will move forward. I kept telling my youngest daughter she should be a pastry chef, it’s where her talents lie but she just wasn’t having any of my “wisdom.” Well, not until she came home after having a horrible experience and simply said to her mother, “I’m so upset I just need to bake something.” Its then it dawned on her this was her passion.
  4. Action is necessary. It isn’t enough to just say, “Something should be done” when you have the ability to accomplish it.
  5. Communication is the key to any success. From relationships to businesses, their success rises or collapses with good proper communication.
  6. Time is your friend because helps bring a lot of clarity and teaches patience. There’s a lot of emphasis place on one’s impact but the real success of it is the ripples seen over time. It allows you to focus on big picture thinking and not just the immediate splash.

If you’re sitting here reading this wondering about your pond and how you can make an IMPACT in it, here are six simple ideas to help. You may not see immediate ripples to your IMPACT but they are there. However, the real first step in making an IMPACT is ask yourself if you really want to.

The Essentials

When I was in high school I did two years of auto mechanics class where I learned how to tear down motors then put them back together. It was an amazing feeling, especially when they sounded better than when we started. In order to do the job right we had a “tool room” with every tool needed to complete the job, any job. At home the mechanic jobs didn’t require a room full of tools but I did need a tool box of essential tools to do all I needed at the time. This got me thinking about cooking and all the “tools” I not only have in the room formerly known as my garage but also in my back yard. Just about every tool to get the job, any job, done. But, just as in high school, it all began with a tool box full of essentials.

  1. Sharp Knife

This is as essential in a cooking tool box as a hammer is in your home improvement kit. When a chef walks into a kitchen they have their personal knife roll full of knives they need for every task. When you set out to choose knives to begin your culinary journey then I would recommend a chef’s knife, boning knife and a paring knife. Each has its own purpose, but there is little that can’t be accomplished with these three. But don’t just run down to the local big box store to get them, research to get some quality knives. Ones with a good feel for your hand, nice balance and that will hold a sharp edge.  However, learn how to sharpen your knives when needed.

  1. Thermometer

Growing up my first introduction to cooking was watching my mom and grandmother cook everything. If it was something I especially liked, I couldn’t hardly stand the wait, but they always seemed to know when it was done and a lot of times it was perfect. But I did notice they would set a timer so when it rang they would check on it but they didn’t trust it. If it was a cake they would stick a knife or toothpick in it. If it were meat, then the thermometer would come out. You know the one, with the arrow on top and you had to have a magnifying class to read it. However, today is the day of the instant read digital thermometer (with big numbers you can actually see). Spend the money to get a proper thermometer so you will never serve under or over done food again. To get the proper read, only go in your meat half way.

  1. Tongs

Burning your fingers is never fun but if you haven’t done it then you’ve probably not cooked very much. Our mom’s warned all of us to not touch the stove because it was hot but we still had to and we still do. How many of you have a burn scar on your arm or hand? Enter the super hero cook tool, the tongs. Why call it a superhero? Because superheroes are supposed to save the citizens from getting hurt. Tongs are a simple (mild mannered, if you will) tool in the cooking tool box designed to save us from getting burned. I have several with varying lengths depending on the task but a nice spring loaded pair will do just fine to start.

  1. Wooden Spoon

For many, our first introduction to this small piece of lumber was when it was applied as a correctional tool upon our backsides, but it has so many other uses. Rarely a day goes by when I’m not using my wooden spoon as a stirrer or scoop. In an era of all things modern, a good wooden carries with it a bit of nostalgia. A time when I would watch my grandmother stir up a dough or cake.

  1. Measuring Spoons/cups

Mary Poppins said it best with her proverbial and iconic words, “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” What many don’t catch is, she was giving us a measurement (as well as a trick) to aid in the recipe of medicine taking. Many recipes, from rubs to cakes, require an exact measurement in order to reproduce a favorite dish.

  1. Strainer

Essential because of the versatile uses it brings to the tool box. A good strainer can be used for its intended uses like straining out unwanted leftovers such as a vanilla bean pod or impurities from an au jus. You can also use it as a sifter for brown sugar over your ribs or some powdered sugar over some fried apple pies.

  1. Whisk

French Toast is one of my favorite breakfast foods, so much so I’ll even have it for supper. Partly because it brings back childhood memories of my mom whisking the egg and milk together with a fork (you thought I was going to say a whisk didn’t ya?). It wasn’t till I was older, I discovered a whisk for this job is so much better than a fork and not only for this job but for many others like marinades, sauces and glazes.

  1. Salt & Pepper

This is more than just a music group from the 90’s, it’s the foundation of most every great rub and recipe. Although very different seasonings, they are forever married together just like peanut butter and jelly. If I have no other seasonings, I’ll always have salt and pepper. This classic combination was even a key component of Eric Hodson’s 2017 Steak World Championship win. According to YouTube, Aaron Franklin only uses this when seasoning his briskets in his famous restaurant and people stand in line for hours. When all other seasonings fail, legends, like salt & pepper, never die.

This list of essentials isn’t exhaustive by any means but would be a great place to begin as you start down this culinary journey or if you’re looking for a list to give some students at your next BBQ class. Building a tool box can be overwhelming at first but with this list, a good cooker and great meat, you’ll have the neighborhood lined up to eat what you are cooking.

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.

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.

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