Vic Clevenger

Speaker, Freelance Writer, Pitmaster

Tag: Writing

It’s Been Awhile

Teaching presentation skills at the NBBQA

I miss this blog...the writing of it…the evolution of it. But I’ve been so busy I’ve just not had the time to devote to it. Time is so finite. 60 seconds in every minute, 60 minutes in every hour, 24 hours in each day, and 168 hours in a week but yet there still seems like there’s not enough. It’s not like I haven’t been busy, just the opposite is true. I’ve been busy writing, traveling, speaking and slinging jokes. The writing I’ve been doing has been fantastic and has opened tons of doors however this, my favorite, has been neglected.

As many of you know I love to write and this won’t change. I’ve been doing it for 30 plus years but off and on I’ve neglected it. Perhaps if I had stayed focused I would have been published more and even written one of those books which are still in the thesis mode. Shoot, maybe I would have been paid more for it but who thinks of this at the time. This is all about to change as I close in on the half way mark of 2019. I am beginning to get more contracts for my writing and starting to shift back to speaking, humorously of course. This all goes hand in hand with the goals I have for my career.

It’s been a while since I have been in control of my own career and honestly, I’ve missed it. So I am feeling pretty good about my upcoming schedule as I shift everything towards my strengths. All of my degrees (yes, I have more than one) are in the communication area from writing to speaking to teaching so I’m going back to my communication roots.

Cooking in the Culinary Fight Club

I am shifting it to some degree to the food industry. I always said there is room in the food world for everyone and I’m going to take my own advice, using my skills in this industry.

I am still going to travel, which I have loved since I started driving and I’m still going to sling some jokes but I am shifting the emphasis of how I do it. If you are having trouble with your presentations, I will be your man. If you need content for your blog, then I will be your writer. If you need a speaker who is funny, then I will be the humorous keynote you’ve been looking for. The Chimney Cartel will continue to grow as I continue to cook, learn, teach and most of all have fun.

So it has been a while….but I am back and back to stay.

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.

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!

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.

Summer is a time for Adventure

Summer has…well what has it done? Spring has sprung. Autumn falls upon us. Winter blows in with its cool breeze. But what do we say about Summer? Well anyway, Summer has begun and with it life continues on its blaze of filled calendars. Trips are planned and shows are being booked all the time. I have something going on almost every month for the rest of the year. Then we try to discuss when to take a vacation to get away from the hustle and bustle. The Keys perhaps or the Mountains will be in our future.

But this time of year takes me back to a time with life was less chaotic and revolved around what fun I could get into today. Once the day was over thoughts of what to do tomorrow turned into dreams as I would drift off to sleep. Summer, for a child was what made life worth living long before we had to think about making a living. When asked by adults, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” was answered with well thought of responses. I’m going to be a cowboy, army man or maybe a pirate would be on the list depending on the day and what fun thing we were doing.

Growing up in Eastern Kentucky, my brother and I would run the hills behind our house looking for whatever we could find. Somedays it was Bigfoot or a monster living in the woods but it didn’t matter because each day was a brand new adventure. We would joke, if someone escaped the nearby prison and chose to hide out in those woods, there wasn’t a person in the county who knew those paths better than us. Some were made by animals on their trek to find food while others were blazed by us searching for our daily quest.

Summer left us with no snow to shovel where we would earn a couple dollars shoveling snow off driveways. But never fear when found our money maker when we discovered several blackberry patches. If you’ve never gone to the woods and picked wild blackberries, then you really have had now adventures in your life. My brother and I would trek off with 5 gallon buckets in hand and fill them every time we went out. Well, we would have filled them every time except we ate a lot of them. Yes, without washing them. Then we put them in jars or containers to sell to the neighbors. No, we didn’t have permits but back in those days people encouraged kids to work. Summers would smell of blackberry cobbler in our neighborhood.

As summer is upon us I miss those adventures of youth. A time when kids played, explored and dreamed of adventure. I know I’m about 4 days into Summer but starting today, I think I’ll make Summer an Adventure again.

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

Dreams, Goals and Aspirations come with their challenges. Much like pioneers had when trying to cross the Grand Canyon

Dean Martin is credited to have said something to the affect, “Dreams are for lazy people. I don’t have time to dream, I need to get out and work to achieve what I want.” However, as we look to what we want out of a career, hobby and live in general, we’ll use the terms in the title almost like synonyms. Perhaps they are, but regardless of that, if you want to achieve whatever you call it, you’re going to have to get out there and work for it. But don’t be surprised if while chasing one, you find yourself following the path toward another, sometimes leaving the other behind.

One glaring example of this is race car driver, Danica Patrick. I say race car driver because it’s how most of us recognize her. This year though she walked away from it all to pursue other aspirations which in my opinion wouldn’t have been possible without the race cars. She spent many years pursuing this dream, which will undoubtedly land her in racing hall of fames for a number of reasons. Only woman to lead an Indy 500, get the pole at the Daytona 500, win an Indy race just to name a couple. Because of this she broke stereotypes and was an inspiration for many young girls many of whom may not even follow racing but they know her.

Some may remember her from her early racing days as the GoDaddy girl. As beautiful and fit as she was (and still is) it was her charisma which projected her from the TV screen into our living rooms leading us to GoDaddy to build our websites. It was probably a part of her contractual agreement as they sponsored a big chunk of her racing but it didn’t matter, they saw her modeling value. I’ll venture to say it became a dream of hers to be a world class model as well as an athlete which furthered the brand of “Danica.” She popped up everywhere as a model who knew what she wanted and got it but it’s changed somewhat now. We still see model Danica but not as much and not the same way.

If you’re like me, you follow her on social media and have noticed the transformation of her dreams. This year with the running of the two biggest races, the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, she said good-bye to her racing dream. I had just mentioned we don’t see her modeling in the same way either, perhaps she’s even winding that down to pursue her new dreams, goals and aspirations. She is now business mogul Danica Patrick. Her Instagram is full of her exercising every single day when I struggle to make it to the gym three days a week. As I watched her through Instagram she began to post her balancing handstand challenges, which now represents the struggles of achieving a life balance. As she worked and worked to achieve this goal, I noticed there began to be less and less racetrack talk in her posts. Looking back on this, it’s as clear as day but in the moment I didn’t realize her dreams, goals and aspirations where changing. She may not have even noticed it but it has taught me a huge lesson. A lesson we all know and have espoused ourselves but may not have even caught on until now. The lesson? Things change.

Pretty simple, huh? Danica is that phrase, in a positive and inspirational way. She has shown us not only do things change, but Dreams, Goals and Aspirations can be those things which change. Even modifications to the original dreams, goals and aspirations is still a change. What I would like to do over the next few weeks is to examine together why they change. The answers can be somewhat simple while others may be a little more complicated (but rest assured not too complicated, remember who’s writing this). Regardless of what we find out I hope its insightful and helpful as your Dreams, Goals and Aspirations continue to evolve. So stay tuned to the Monday Morning Blogs as we discover more together.

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