Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Tag: Food (page 1 of 2)

Why Cook?

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

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.

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!

The Sights, Sounds and Smells of Christmas

Our 2018 Christmas Tree
Our 2018 Christmas Tree

Today is Christmas Eve and before the house is engulfed with all the smells that accompany this day, I’m here writing my blog reminiscing about the years gone by. There’s been 50 of these holidays, so the flood of memories is many. The Christmas Eve’s with the entire family at my Aunts, the adults in the kitchen laughing, the teenagers in the basement doing what they did and the rest of us noisily running everywhere else.  As the years have merrily lumbered by, the holiday traditions of old being replaced by new ones as we move and began our own families. But as I look back on our holiday fun the more I realize these new ones aren’t really all that different.

The Sights of Christmas

Growing up we, like everyone else, we had a Christmas tree complete with stings of multi-colored lights along with a few manger scenes scattered about. However, one of our highlights as a kid was when Mom & Dad would take us down Skyline Drive where there was a house decorated up with so many lights and decorations, Clark Griswold would be envious. Nothing has much changed as I’ve gotten older. Our family tree still has multi-colored lights although they are controlled by our phones and we still make the journey to a Griswold style house. However, living in central Florida, we may not have snow or cold weather, but the parks brighten the night skies with Christmas decorations. One of our favorites is SeaWorld’s Sea of Christmas Trees.

The Sounds of Christmas

I remember getting on the old school bus our church owned making our way from house to house of the shut-ins and seniors for Christmas caroling year after year. A couple years Mom even gathered a few of our neighborhood buddies and got us to go neighbor to neighbor to sing, Hark, the Herald Angels Sing and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. In addition to the holiday songs were the laughter of us kids as we romped and played at my grandparents, perhaps we were even a little too rambunctious on occasion. Now days Christmas caroling has been replaced by my iPod as it plays A Rat Pack Christmas, On Demand Christmas channels on TV and the trek to Epcot at Disney World for the Candlelight Processional. This year the sounds of Christmas will harken back to the Christmases of 1995 and 1999 when there were baby sounds around the tree, which is really the best sounds of all this time of year.

The Smells of Christmas

Aromas have a way of inviting people into a home (it’s the holidays so let’s just focus on the inviting aromas, if we can please) or awakening the kids as they waft through the house. The sweetness of pumpkin pies or carrot cakes. The roasting smell of the turkey as it mingles with the season filled stuffing whetting the appetite as we wait for Mom to call us to the table. Although Mom has gone, her memory is still here with the desserts, at least some of them, being prepared by her protégé, my daughter, Rebecca. These various smells of Christmas still permeate each corner of the house as the whole family pitches in to compliment the old aromas with new smells which will soon fall into the lore of Christmas’ gone by.

The sights, sounds and smells of Christmas are what make this season extra special. It brings back the memories of those who’ve gone on to see the King of kings and allows us to retell those stories as we create new traditions. So this Christmas season, spend a moment to take in all the Sights, Sounds and Smells of Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Stocking hung with care along the wall because I live in Florida and don't need a fireplace
Stocking hung with care along the wall because I live in Florida and don't need a fireplace

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.

The Hotter, Longer and Cleaner Burn

My alligator presentation

Recently I was out cooking an alligator (I live in FL and it’s what I do) and decided I needed to do one of my Facebook Live Friday’s. I started off wanting to show everyone what I was up to with this cook while plugging some of the rubs I was using (check out the B&B Rubs as well as the rubs from fellow B&B Ambassadors). In the course of this theatrical masterpiece I recreate each Friday, I began to plug my go-to fuel for such a cook, B&B Charcoal Char-logs and kiln dried wood, when the tag-line hit me, as for the very first time (sounds like a line from a song). It wasn’t the actual first time I’d read it of course, as a matter of fact, I’d used this tag-line as a “selling”point to others when they ask why I use B&B.

Today I was about to load an alligator onto my smoker which was the very first time I’d cooked something like this and when you have such an undertaking you want something you know to be reliable in the fire box. To add more pressure on this first time cook, this meat was to be the main course for the dinner party I was having and it was going to take somewhere between 10-12 hours at a steady 225 to 250 degrees. This is when I understood the B&B Charcoal tag-line was more than just a promotional tool, it was the “why”I rely on this fuel for all my cooks.

The Hotter Burn

Did you know you could cook a top 10 steak on a just a starter chimney and Grill Grates? You can when you have about 25 B&B Charcoal Briquettes in your chimney (this may vary depending on the weather) and yes I’ve counted them. I’ve gotten my cooking surface up to about 700 degrees doing this, which is a great cooking temperature for a perfect steak. Whether it’shot and fast for a steak or low and slow for my alligator, a pitmaster knows it’s about fire control. This requires a hot set of coals which will form the base,especially for a long cook, which brings us to the next part of the tag-line.

The Longer Burn

I remember standing around a couple years ago at the NBBQA celebrity steak cook-off when we marveled at how long the B&B Charcoal was burning.If memory serves correctly, four different cooks used the same set of coals and they were still hot after the awards ceremony. This alligator was going to need a charcoal that would stay hotter longer so B&B is the obvious choice. Having a longer burn tends to help on the attention given to the fire. Although a pitmaster knows to pay attention to the fire, having a coal with a longer burn allows for less feeding of the fire to keep the same temperature and with proper management, it saves money.

The Cleaner Burn

For most outdoor cooks the fire they use is more than just a cooking fuel, it’s another layer of flavor and the choice of what to use is crucial for success. Is it for color or sweetness or just a mild smoky flavor?Whatever the reason, it shouldn’t over power the meat (or veggies) on the cooker and this is where B&B comes in with the all-natural wood. This is a relief because as ever live fire cook knows, whatever is in your fuel makes its way into your food. What this means for you is, your food will taste better, be healthier because there’s no foreign substances and its good for the environment.

The next time you pick up a bag of B&B Charcoal and you read the tag-line hopefully you’ll read it again as more than just a promotional tool, but as a promise. A promise that your cook will have a hotter, longer and cleaner burn. Oh, but how it tastes will be up to you but I’m sure it will be terrific.

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.

THANKSGIVING

My grandson, Caspian, trying on the medal from WFC

It’s the time of year when the holiday season gets in full swing. It kinda began with Halloween but now Thanksgiving is here. Black Friday sales have begun, in some cases, they started last week (can they really be called Black Friday Sales when they begin a week before Black Friday?) But people will go get those items and I really can’t blame them because a sale is a sale afterall. Just stop calling them Black Friday sales is all I’m saying. The only major shopping that should be done prior to Thanksgiving is for the big family feast taking place this week.

This week for me will be a little different than Thanksgivings in the past in that my family won’t be together. Now we’ve done our own Thanksgivings before in that we have moved from home years ago. But I’ll never forget those times growing up. For my early years it was one of those times I looked forward to. We would travel to my grandparents in Ohio which was only a few hours away but for a kid seemed like it took forever. When we got there and the rest of the family began to arrive it was the traditional Thanksgiving picture you’ve seen in the movies or on television. Big turkey in the middle of the long table surrounded by every side dish you could imagine. Green beans, potato salad, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes (if you didn’t get your starches it wasn’t for the lack of opportunity), rolls and then the desserts. Mom’s carrot cake was always a hit and of course there was always a pumpkin pie which I still use as just a vehicle for my whipped topping. Oh and to make the picture complete, that was the adults table. We kids were all gathered around the little table in the kitchen, affectionately known that time of year as, “the Kid’s Table.”

As the years passed by we have all grown up, moved away and began our own family traditions all the while holding those memories dear to us. I’ve shared a story or two with my kids through the years hoping to give them a glimpse into my youth and the importance of being with family. Thankful for the memories, which in many cases is all we have left of our grandparents, aunts, uncles and some cousins. My mom loved this time of year because in her list of loves, cooking ranked right up there (behind the Lord and family). If we were sick there was soup. If we were depressed, cake. If we were happy, pot-roast (that was also Sunday after church). But Thanksgiving, well now, it was time to really get the cooking done. Early to rise anyway, she found it easy to toss the turkey in then begin the rest of the menu. WOW, I miss those days and I miss her but I’m Thankful for what I have left, many of her recipes and those memories.

Which brings me to this week, which two paragraphs ago I introduced. Many of you know I have two daughters which truly are my pride and joy. My oldest just gave birth to my first grandchild (some of you may or may not know that part) which I think the Sun rises and sets on him. He is my little buddy already and I can’t wait to teach him all my redneck ways. However, this week his parents are up north (with him) to visit my wife’s parents, which is to the delight of the great-grandparents. So Marcia, my wife, has decided she needs to fly up to Kentucky to be with the grandson on this Thanksgiving Day, leaving me and Rebecca, my youngest daughter, home alone. See, I told you this year it was different. Don’t mistake this as me being upset or sorry because I’m missing out for this could not be further from the reality. I’m actually thankful for this.

I’m Thankful my daughter can show her husband and son where her parents grew up. Although he is only 2months old (the grandson not the son in law), the family will all still be together even if it is just the connection of them being in the hills I love so much. I’m Thankful my wife and I can afford to just buy a plane ticket so she can hold her grandson on Thanksgiving Day. I’m Thankful my youngest daughter is excited to cook our Thanksgiving feast, although our turkey is coming from the deli and will be in the form of sandwiches, there will still be pumpkin pie. I am Thankful both my daughters have found good, God-fearing boys (I think I’m spending Thanksgiving with the youngest one’s boyfriend). I’m Thankful we, my wife and I, have a place where the kids can call home and return to anytime they need. I’m Thankful for all the memories I have of my family, those I see all the time, those I don’t and especially those memories of those who are gone. My list of Thankfulness could go on and on but you’re getting the idea. Although this Thanksgiving is going to be a bit different, it doesn’t lessen my list of Thankfulness.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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