Kids can cook. I mean REALLY cook. That is the message coming out of the Lake Placid I Love BBQ Festival's Junior World Championships held on the Olympic Oval last weekend.
"The Junior Championships really matter," said Master Judge Gerry Mullane. "Many young people have been involved in Kid's Qs over the years and in other festivals around the country. Kid's Qs (Youth Division) are for young people ages 8 to 14, after that they have nowhere to go. Dmitry's dream, which he had walking through the woods one day, was to make this program a bit like the Olympics; a cooking championships for the 16 to 21 year old. We bring in the best people we can find to serve as judges, people who are in the business of writing about, supplying or cooking great food. We are really thrilled by the quality of the kids we get, they are really talented, our challenge is that our event is held in the summer, if it was during the school year we would get many more teams entering."
Basically the kids have to deliver three meals in three hours serving about two dozen judges each time, each of the meals features a meat (chicken, steak or ribs) plus a vegetable and starch (each vegetable and starch served only once aka not repeated with a different meat), plus a dessert, and all cooked on a grill or barbequed using wood or wood byproducts for fuel, no gas or electric.
Each plate served must be to the size expected in a restaurant and appearance matters, as does the taste, creativity and how well all the items work together. As an example, don't send in a meal where every item is spicy or sweet, the judges are looking for balance and variety in texture taste, appearance and portions, don't send of a pound of steak or a half a chicken and expect to win. While no judge expects the food to be piping hot as they do have to be carried up from their grills out on the oval, still temperature does matter.
Think about it. Lots of people grill a steak on a Sunday afternoon. How many also cook a veggie and potato on the grill, and then as soon as that is served, whip out a whole other meal within an hour, then do it yet again a third time, and then come up with a dessert that is prepared on the grill as well?
Think about the amount of prep work, timing of what is being cooked when, and the planning and organization that would go into it. It's a tall order by any measure.
"My only beef with this, no pun intended, is with the potatoes," said Slayton Altenburg, a chef at a well-known Pennsylvania hostelry. "The garlic is a little sharp and they are a little dry, but the overall all balance is very good."
"The presentation was very good," said Rawle Hugh of Ottawa. "This is what I wanted the previous plate to be, my only complaint is that I found the potatoes to be a little salty."
"It was very mature, a kid produced this?" Candy Tomson, a reporter with the Baltimore Sun.
"The pro chefs should taste this," said Hugh. "This is what a pro entry should taste like. They need to know this is what kids are doing. They need to sharpen their game."
"This was the best," said Lake Placid Village Board member Jason Leon. "I wanted to hug my plate of ribs. It was so delicious."
"I love the Junior Championships," said Linda Mullane, who has been judging and managing the judging of BBQ festivals with her husband Gerry since 1996. "The kids are so creative. They take it to heart. They are so nice and polite, the best kids you'd ever want to meet. They are also so focused. They really work hard. One who won last year is going to Paul Smiths this fall on a scholarship. I am really excited about that. One of the youth teams, Delicious, has moved up to the adult level, I am excited about that as well. I am so impressed by what these kids do."
"I was in charge of the chicken dish," said Maggie Pomeroy of Girls with Grills from Thetford, Vt. "We are all in the same school and class. This was my first competition. I thought it was fun. I thought it would be stressful, but not really."
"I learned how to make a balanced meal," said her teammate and sister Michaela. "I was responsible for our steak entry and decided the recipes for that dish, but we all helped each other."
"It was stressful." said Lizzie Romano of Wyatt and the Barbi Q's of Saranac Lake. "It's a long day. We have been here since 6 AM. It was definitely worth it. This was our second year. We knew what to expect coming in. This year we learned that high management works. Last year we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off. This year we were very prepared."
"It was sweaty, stressful and hard, and a good time" said teammate Page Foley. "It was fun. I had a good time, the only thing I didn't like was getting up at 6 this morning."
"It was fun, some parts were stressful, but overall pretty awesome," said Wyatt Foley. "I have been cooking since I was 6. If I can't get a career in football then yes, I plan to have a career in cooking."
"My dad wanted us to get into this so we did," said teammate Courtney Sullivan. "He caters all the time. He is a real culinary guy. I like cooking as a sideline, I don't see it as a career."
Team Pepperque BBQ won the 2012 Junior World Championships, meaning their total score for the chicken ribs, steak and dessert was the highest, Wyatt & the Barbi Q's took second, and Grills that Killz took third. Smoke on Wheels won the Youth Division, Sid Vicious took second, and Three Grills and a Grill placed third.