Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Tag: Education

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.

A Teacher at Heart

Mom teaching Rebecca in the kitchen
Mom teaching Rebecca in the kitchen

I hated school. I know that sounds like a shock to you and perhaps a little too transparent but the fact remains, I hated it. Well, not all of it. I did enjoy hanging out with my friends and the mischief we caused. It was nothing serious which would keep me from being elected to office (as if I would want to be) but just regular stuff while hanging out before and after classes. It was the classes I genuinely disliked. Well, I did like a couple of them like English and literature, some of it anyway. The other classes however, interfered with my social activities. So you can see why many were surprised I went to college and not just college but decided I needed a Master’s Degree but not stopping there, I set out to get a second one (maybe I’ll finish this one someday) because a person can never have too many degrees.

You can probably imagine their shock when they find out not only have I furthered my education but I’ve also been an adjunct professor at two separate universities, corporate trainer, motivational speaker, writer and comedian (ok the last one they wouldn’t be all that shocked about). As I look back over what I’ve done in the 30+ years since I left high school there seems to be one theme constant in all I do. Whether it’s taking my daughters fishing or standing in front of a group at a conference this single thread running through my life is teaching. I’ve done communication classes (my degree focus) taught someone how to change a headlight and even taught a beauty queen contestant how to give a great 2-minute speech, so teaching is what I do. Which is something I’ve always known, just never really admitted.

So when I began the Chimney Cartel this component seemed to me a no-brainer, although I wasn’t sure why. With the essence being learning to do something new and different (cooking on a starter chimney for instance) it is no large leap that teaching would be another major element of the Cartel. I keep going back to Edison and his light bulb because each of us have dozens of these little items illuminating our homes. A constant reminder of someone trying something new, failing, not giving up, then succeeded only to teach this to others who have not only learned the lessons but in some ways surpassed the teacher, which is what teachers truly hope.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been around great teachers my whole life (although I may not have recognized them at the time) and it’s them who have placed me on this path of teaching. But let’s not get carried away with questions as to why I’m not a school teacher or a college professor (although I am toying with this one). Quite frankly, I’m not disciplined enough to grade papers, so that’s the answer in a nutshell. But I thoroughly enjoy my makeshift classrooms in someone’s back yard, or at an outdoor cooking show or even at a conference where people come to learn or see something new. Watching the proverbial light bulb go on for someone is always exciting because it shows they just realized they received a nugget of knowledge and you as a teacher had a hand in this.

So pillar number two (stop it with the #2 jokes, I already thought of them as I was writing this) is basicly sharing with others what you know – teaching.

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.

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