This year was the ninth running of the I Love BBQ & Music Festival. The good and bad news about the festival is that you get to taste ribs and pulled pork cooked to perfection by a group of fanatics that would baste their own mother if that would help.
Cooking for them is great fun, they love to win and they are perfectionists. We judges benefit because they are cooking for us, and the general public benefits because winning the People's Choice awards means as much to them, if not more, than the formal competition. So when they serve up their two ribs for $3 or a plate of pulled pork, you really want to be there because your chances of eating ribs that good in any restaurant are slim.
They spent 14 hours preparing ribs so they will be exactly right at that moment. Few restaurants have that leisure or can afford to cook in such a time-efficient manner. Another reason we benefit is because Dmitry Feld and his team of volunteers, coupled with the summer amenities of Lake Placid, make the BBQ teams and their families feel really welcome. All the teams competing have the choice of other festivals to attend, but they make the long drive to come here because the community is a great place to be on the Fourth of July weekend.
Stephanie Felberbaum slices ribs, assisted by Olivia Dodge, at the I Love BBQ & Music Festival.
(Photo courtesy of Naj Wikoff)
The BBQ Festival is a fundraiser for the Shipman Youth Center, an after-school program that provides a safe place for kids to relax, socialize, play games and do homework in an environment with positive adult role models. The adult supervisors listen, give respect, provide advice, guidance, and firm boundaries, and really like kids.
A consequence is the Junior and Youth divisions within the festival are a special passion for Feld, president of the Shipman Center and founder and director of the BBQ Festival, as he, too, loves kids.
Yes, Dmitry loves food and people, everybody really, but his love of kids really drives him the most. Encouraging young kids to cook combines his passions, and the judges get to taste food some of which would give the adult chefs a serious run for their money.
"Instead of just doing barbecue, we asked the kids to include a vegetable and a starch, and to plate the food as if it was being served in a restaurant," said Jerry Mullane, master judge for the youth/junior championships. "You are being asked to judge it by its overall appearance as well as the taste and texture, how the flavors balance and complement each other. We told them, this is their restaurant."
"At first I thought the rice was under seasoned, but then I tried the chicken and tomatoes, and I felt they blended together perfectly," said Dr. Robert Dellamore after each of us had turned in our ratings of the first plate served.
"I would like to have the beans to have been a bit greener," said Deanne Moskowitz.
"That's tough to do without steaming, as steaming brings out the color of vegetables, and when you put them on a barbecue, you instantly bring the color down because of the smoke," said Chris Pulito general manger of the Whiteface Lodge.
"I think asking the kids to do more than just the chicken is a great idea," said Mike Eikette.
"From the standpoint of presentation, I was blown away by their creativity," said Pulito. "We serve up to 800 meals a day at the Lodge, and the first thing we do is look at the presentation because if the presentation isn't right, it impacts how people feel about the taste. These presentations would have been impressive if done by a chef, but to have been done by a 16 year old is just amazing."
"I thought it was very, very tasty," said James Lemons, director of the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. "Looked nice, tasted nice. I would like a second plate."
Between rounds, I dashed out to check on the young cooks and taste some of the ribs being served in the People's Choice competition.
"This is my third year competing in the Youth Division," said Sidney Belmore, teamed up with his brother Jaron. "This is a great event. It is organized really well. It's just phenomenal. I like the tenderness of barbecue. It is just so good. It melts on your mouth. Ribs are my favorite. I've been cooking for five years.
"I've been cooking for two years," said Jaron. "I like barbecued chicken the best."
"Most of the time they give me pointers," said their uncle Dave, who has been cooking for 10 years, and competition style for four. "They are on top of things. I think their chances are very good, both are very talented and they work very well together."
This is my first time cutting a rib," said Stephanie Felberbaum, of the youth team, Dr. Bitts BBQ. "I have been cooking since about 7 this morning."
"This is our first time competing in Lake Placid," added partner Olivia Dodge watching intently.
Nearby, Team Eatapedia, John Thomson and Paul Firlotte were serving their $3 ribs.
"We won best ribs last year, won People's Choice pulled pork on Friday," said Thomson. "This is our fifth year competing and our third year competing in Lake Placid. Each year, we have won a first place in something. Our ribs are the best."
"These ribs a pretty darn good," said customer Jacob Geer, licking his fingers. "Great meat, and I like the sauce. I have 20 more places to try before I know if it is truly the best as they say. But they are good, sweet, tender. I like it."
"These ribs were amazing,' said Robert Dellamore back at the judging tables. "I just couldn't get over the tenderness. I thought it was just delightful. I felt the others were a little uneven."
"My reaction was just the opposite," said Deanne Moskowitz. "I felt those were good, but these were divinely tender, really beyond belief. I felt that had a wonderful sweet savory balance. I liked that little zing underneath. The other was not quite as tender, and believe me I could not make a rib as tender as that kid did, but I like these a bit better."
And so the discussions went as the judges tasted rounds of chicken, ribs, steak and desserts.
In the Youth division, Stephanie and Olivia came in a close second, only 3 points behind the 177 for first-place winners of team Ben-E-BBQ, while Sid and Jaron placed a strong third. Who won? Everybody: The kids, their parents, the judges, the public and the Shipman Youth Center.