Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Category: Passion

Three Essentials to a Successful Business

Teaching presentation skills at the NBBQA

The old saying, “If you love what you do you will not work a day in your life” has never been truer than when it comes to the world of BBQ and especially the business of BBQ. This passion has contributed to making BBQ one of the fastest growing cuisines in the United States. BBQ in its purest form, has been at the center of civilizations since the beginning of time and in this world of “retro cool” may be one of the reasons many are drawn to this cuisine. Although, in the earliest of days, cooking with fire was a necessity, it was this passion which turned these early cooks into the first pitmasters. This sense of community around food cooked over or adjacent to a live fire continues to draw people together and this is great for the business of BBQ.

Another buzz word today is “fusion” which is a fancy way of bringing two or more distinct entities together into one new item. One of those unique business of BBQ “fusions” is right in New York and the exploding New York BBQ movement. Self-educated pitmasters and restaurateurs have filled the Big Apple with smoked kissed meat with what has traditionally been viewed as a southern cuisine. This “fusion” has made such an impact in New York, they hold the yearly “Big Apple Block Party” celebrating this business of bbq and drawing such big name pitmasters as Chris Lilly and Mike Mills. At the core of this fusion is not just the bringing together of regions but of flavors. The willingness pitmasters, such as Billy Durney, have in bringing BBQ to the land of the “best pizza” displays the risks these cooks are willing to take.

This snapshot of the business of BBQ teaches us three essential lessons for success, the first of which is simply, passion. BBQ can require long hours manning the fires to obtain the right level of smoke and this doesn’t happen if there is no passion for a great end product. Secondly is educating yourself to be a master of your craft. Every pitmaster worth his or her salt takes time to educate themselves on how they can do what they do better, embracing the concept of “knowledge is power.” But success never comes without risk, which is the lesson we learn most from those New York pitmasters. The city that never sleeps was virtually barren wasteland when it came to BBQ but a few brave pitmasters took the risk which has paid off in a big way.

These three pillars are what not only holds up the successful business of bbq but what also holds up every successful business.

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

The Chimney Cartel – A place of purpose

Like many school age kids, I hated school. At least this is what I told people when the subject came up. But in reality, I enjoyed many aspects of school. I enjoyed going to school although I didn’t appreciate the time I had to get up to get there. I enjoyed hanging out with my friends and the fun we had, I even enjoyed some of my teachers along with the classes they taught. I enjoyed English class even when we had to diagram sentences or read a literature piece in front of class. I enjoyed my shop class, small engine repair and auto mechanics classes, where I got my hands on something to work with. I even like the reading assignments where I had to read McBeth, not to mention being introduced to Poe and Hemingway.

However, in school I learned so much more than just the “Three R’s.” I learned to get goals accomplished it begins by rising early. I learned how to interact with my peers as well as my superiors (my teachers). Looking back I can see the course of my career was being laid out early on because what I enjoyed is still what I do today, like writing (thus this blog), reading and speaking. As I’ve gotten order I’ve taken a side road here and there on my life’s journey but it I always find my way back to writing, teaching, and speaking. Which brings me to the Chimney Cartel.

A Place to Teach

I’ve been fortunate learn cooking from the school of Mom’s kitchen as well as hang out with world champion Pitmasters. They have taken me in teaching me tricks and tips elevating my skills to a whole different level. This has allowed me to win more contests (finishing Top 10 at the World Food Championships) and more food fans in my neighborhood when I have a dinner party. So when I began the Chimney Cartel as a joke, I soon began to realize this could be a place where cooks can me a mentor to others. So now days, I take the time to teach others how they can be a better cook in their sphere of influence.

A Place to Learn

A great teacher never knows it all but always seeks to try. What this quote is alluding to is in order to be a better teacher, you never stop being a student. I was watching a buddy of mine the other day teach a class on prepping ribs and just when I thought I was doing ok wit this piece of meat, Eric taught me something new. Sometimes what you learn is small or it can be life changing. Another aspect I decided would be a part of the Chimney Cartel would be learning. Not only are tips and tricks shared but questions can also be asked without feeling stupid. In my years of teaching this is the one constant, students are afraid of asking a stupid question. In the Chimney Cartel, when it comes to wanting to learn, there are no stupid questions.

A Place to Have Fun

The one thing I remember about school is the fun I had being there. Don’t get me wrong, some of the classes where soooo boring and when I would get in trouble, this wasn’t much fun. But overall, I had a blast at school. I enjoyed some of my classes but most of all I enjoyed hanging out with my friends telling stories, skipping an occasional class and the football games. This is the what I am hoping the Chimney Cartel becomes as well. A place where it’s fun when we hang out not only at competitions but even here in the cyber world. If anyone knows anything about me is, if I’m not having fun doing something, I don’t want to do it. This is not the case with the Chimney Cartel, this is the place we all can joke and enjoy our common ground, cooking especially over a live fire.

This once a joke of a title will now have purpose as we seek to teach and learn from one another all while having a blast doing it.

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.

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