Time Warner’s BBQ & Blues Competition and Festival, produced by City Center Partners, under the direction of Executive Director Robert Krumbine, is the lure that brings me to Charlotte, North Carolina for my first visit. After a short flight from LaGuardia on US Air, I check into the historic and cozy Dunhill Hotel, conveniently located on Tryon Avenue and 6th Street. General Manger Craig Spitzer is charming and gracious, and we discover we met when he was working in the hotel industry in New York City. He has arranged for me to have a late lunch at the hotel’sHarvest Moon Grill.
After lunch I walk around “uptown” though there is no “downtown”, spend time in the BechtlerMuseum of Modern Art, the Mint Museum-Craft & Design, Bank of America’s glass tower and the shops at Founder’s Hall. I wander down Pine Street in the 4th Ward and discover a neighborhood of meticulously restored and preserved Victorian Houses.
By the end of the day, I am too tired to stray past Harvest Moon Grill’s Sidewalk Café. The night is balmy; the service is attentive, and after a few glasses of wine, I decide to order from the dinner menu. The offerings are enticing and I feast on the braised pork ribs, so succulent and juicy they melt in my mouth. Owner/Chef Cassie Parsons is living her dream of bringing food from her farm (where she raises pigs, rabbits, chickens and sheep with her partner Natalie Veres) into the city. Two years ago she got a grant to build a Harvest Moon Grill Food Truck which can be seen serving up her fabulous food around town and at local Farmers’ Markets, three days a week. They also sell their pork products to nine local restaurants. Originally a corporate chef with a love for gardening, Cassie started a landscaping business. Life led her to an organic 200 acre farm whereshe learned how to raise animals naturally. As her journey continued, she and Natalie bought their own 10 acre farm in Denver, North Carolina. She tells me: “It’s all about seasonal cooking, and I would like to change the dynamics of how locals eat”.
Breakfast is included, and I begin my days devouring a variety of specialty omelets along with a side of Cassie’s famous brown sugar and apple cured smoked bacon.
In the afternoon, Lawrence Hinkle takes me on a fascinating eco-focused tour of The Ritz-Carlton, the first LEED® Gold- certified hotel for greater Charlotte and the Ritz-Carlton, Hotel Company, L.L.C. He points out energy saving light bulbs in the hallways, bamboo floors in the yoga studio and employee uniforms made of fabric derived from regenerated plastic bottle materials. We climb to the green vegetated roof, planted with 18,000 sedum plants that help reduce “urban heat island effect.” The green surface reflects, slows rain runoff and insulates the rooftop, keeping the hotel building cooler overall. The Chef’s Rooftop Garden which cultivates lavender, mint and other fresh herbs is also home to two fully-contained beehives, whose inhabitants assist in pollination and ultimately provide natural honey for the hotel. Seventy pounds of all-naturally, chemical-free raw honey can be generated annual by each hive, depending upon foraging schedules, weather and nectar flow. On the way out, I am treated to a mini cone filled with honey based ice cream that is served to guests in the lobby.
Moira Quinn, the media liaison for City Center Partners drives me through an industrial neighborhood where factories have been turned into home furnishing showrooms. Later that evening, I take the hotel’s vintage taxi to the Music Factory Grounds where the BBQ competition & Blues Festival is being held. Moira introduces me to team members who will be camping out on chairs, tents and trailers. It’s one big hoot of a party as friends and families come together to eat, drink and prep for tomorrow’s big BBQ competition.
LET THE JUDGING BEGIN
The heat is on, and the competition intense, at Time Warner’s 9th Annual BBQ & Blues Festival. The Memphis BBQ Network Sanctioned Contest lives up to its reputation as the best BBQ competition in the Southwest, and I am blown away by the smells and flavors that permeate the air . . . and the camaraderie of the 101 teams prepping, grilling, basting and plating entries that will be judged in a variety of blind and onsite categories, including: whole hog, shoulders, butts and ribs for the professionals and “anything goes” for backyard grillers. Best Booth judging will take place from 10: to noon. There are many rules and regulations to follow …from team load- ins to meat inspections. There’s even a Holy Smokers Too Championship BBQ technique class for those who want to kick up their skills a notch or two.
One hundred and fifty certified judges have registered; some specializing in different categories, on site or blind tasting (an important part of the competition). It is quite an art and commitment to learning the techniques of judging. Every dish is judged by seven people, four at tables in the judging room and three where the cooking is taking place.
I spend time chatting with the judges, an interesting mix of men, women and couples from around the state and the country, who share a mutual pleasure and obsession for BBQ competitions. I am intrigued with the diversity of their ages, backgrounds and professions; I have wandered into a unique inner circle of BBQ lovers who have spent $85 on a class to qualify as a certified BBQ judge… truck drivers and Fed Ex supervisors, retired military officers and government workers, teachers, business owners and lawyers. Everyone I approach is friendly and open to sharing what inspired their entry into the “professional BBQ judging circuit”.
Bill spent four years inVietnam, after 39 years, retired in 2010. “BBQ is my passion as is the interesting interaction with people. Every time I come to a contest, I learn something new. I have my own smoker back home. First I became a qualified MBN judge, and then a KCBS judge. My wife supports me; she became qualified and now we travel all over the country. It cost $85 to qualify. And then we travel at our own expense.”
Paul, who also served in the military, lives in Arlington, Va. and works for the Department of Homeland Security. He has been a certified judge for seven years. Most are certified both MQN & KCBN. “I wanted to be able to taste a higher quality of BBQ products than what is served commercially. This is my hobby; it’s a fun thing; a world unto itself. Until you get into it, you don’t understand how well and wide spread it is”.
At the end of this, I say this is the true part ofAmericana; lots of American flags are flying taking part in a cultural event”.
Competitors are as diversified as the judges, and I make friends with quite a few as I walk around sampling their pride and joy recipes. The Melting Pot Roasters, a team of five, injects their pig with a mix of apple, pineapple, lemon and lime juices. Tom Trebo who works for Fed Ex is here from Memphis with friends and family; backyard griller Olin Clark, a truck driver from Charlotte, tells me: “We all work together; it’s the camaraderie of people just being outdoors and the smells that bring us all together”.
And the winners are:
Grand Champion - Jack's Old South
Shoulder - Jack's Old South
Whole Hog - Jack's Old South
Ribs - Ranucci's Big Butt BBQ
Boston Butt - Rocky Top Smokies
Ribs - Moonwine Racers
But as far as I am concerned, everyone was a winner, and a rollicking outrageous fun time was had by all.
For info on Time Warner’s 10th Annual BBQ & Blues 2012 Competition