Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Tag: Speaking

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.

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.

Lead With Your Left

With Dad and Elisabeth at her graduation

With Dad and Rebecca at Bass Pro Shops

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dreams, Goals and Aspirations – Part 2

Teaching at the NBBQA in Ft. Worth, TX

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

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

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

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

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

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