"When you come to an event like the Lake Placid barbecue the teams are cooking for the contest. You're getting ribs that are spot on, which is hard to find when you purchase ribs at a restaurant," said Mic Standfield, a certified barbecue judge.
No question, the Lake Placid I Love BBQ and Music Festival has made me a much finickier devotee of barbecue. Good news for those who attend are the daily specials where people can purchase discounted plates of barbecued ribs and pulled pork as part of selecting the people's choice awards. Added value is the Top-Chef cooking classes where the general public can learn from the masters and taste the results. Of course, each day there are plenty of grilled specialties to purchase as well as great music and a variety other entertainments to enjoy.
This year was my 8th year serving as a judge and fourth time as a judge of the Junior World Championships. The festival was launched to raise funds for the Shipman Youth Center. Dmitry Feld, who came up with the idea and has managed the event since its inception, uses his considerable powers of persuasion and energy to attract a small army of volunteers and many annual sponsors devoted to the idea of enhancing the quality of life for area youth.
Photo/Naj Wikoff/Lake Placid News
The Pepperque team with Teddy, Harrison, Tiffany
and Samuel Londeen
"Thomas Shipman was a police officer who died very young at the age of 39 leaving a wife and three children," said Dmitry. "He always cared about kids. As a cop he went out of his way to connect with and support young people. After he died local volunteers raised the funds and built the Shipman Youth Center to provide a safe place for kids. The Youth and the Junior World divisions in the barbecue festival were started in his memory and to encourage young people."
The awards for the winners of the Junior World Championships are anything but modest including $20,000 in scholarships from Paul Smith's College, one of the leading culinary arts colleges in the country. The students have to prepare three dishes, one featuring barbecued ribs, another barbecued chicken, and the third grilled steak. The plates are served with a vegetable and a starch and are judged for presentation, taste, and creativity on a scale of one to ten.
In a relatively short time the Lake Placid festival has risen in prominence being listed in the top twenty by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and one of the best in the country by Delish.com. The festival is alcohol free, an unusual aspect of most. While organizers could raise a lot more money, and perhaps attract larger audiences, their goal is to create a family-friendly event and demonstrate to young people that adults can have lots of fun without a drink in their hand.
"In my opinion the hardest thing about cooking is cooking against the clock." said Alex Brown, a judge for both the Kansas and Memphis barbecue associations, a certified Kansas City Barbecue Society judge,and barbecue rep. At the Lake Placid barbecue, Brown judged the grilling contest, the two youth and the adult divisions, and the hot sauce competition.
"My dad used to cook for the Masons," said Brown. "He often cooked shoulders, which I used to bust up for him. Several years later in '89, when I was a bit older, I went to a barbecue contest in the DC area. I asked someone what are those people doing, the ones who were tasting the ribs and making notes. They said they are judges, their job is to taste the barbecue. I asked if they cooked it as well, and was told no, all they do is go to these events and taste the results. When I heard they were looking for more people willing to become judges I immediately raised my hand and signed up for the class. A few months later I started judging and have been every since."
"Dmitry basically told me to volunteer," said Cindy Thomson, who covers sporting events for the Baltimore Sun.
"Ahh, you are a volentold, a person told to volunteer," said Brown. "What's it like up here in the winter?"
"The town is smaller, tighter," said Thomson. "It's my favorite town. I like the people. They treat you really well. What do you look for when you judge hot sauce?"
"Something that is flavorful, not just hot. Heat is easy to do. Heat and flavor, that's much harder," said Brown.
"I started cooking ten to twelve years ago," said Elliott Buckner. "My wife got me a small smoker. Then I got a bigger one, and then a still bigger one. My brothers would come over and we'd start cooking together. We heard about a barbecue contest, grabbed a couple friends, entered, and ended up winning. I thought, 'That was easy.' So we entered three the next year and after that we were hooked. We do about five contests a year, that's about the most our wives will let us."
"I like all of it," he continued. "Mostly we do the grilling and barbecuing. They are very different. Grilling is fun because it compresses everything into a very short window. With the barbecue we start about 11 p.m. at night and add the different cuts until about 3 a.m. We generally cook at about 250 degrees. You end up with really great food that tastes very complicated, but the cooking really consists of a few simple steps and a good rub."
"I can't believe that this pumpkin cheese cake was cooked in a smoker," said Rich DeFazio," another judge at my table as we started tasting the final round of desserts.
"I'd love to get the recipe," said Cindy Thomson. "She's won the last three years. I can't imagine how she does it."
"I cooked with hardwood pellets," said Tiffany Londeen of team PepperQue, who ended up winning the Junior World Championships again this year. "I think cooking in a smoker results in a better cheesecake than a conventional oven."
"Cooking is our family activity," said brother Harry. "We do it throughout the year. It's fun to play around and experiment. We do about 13 contests a year." Persistence pays, their brother Teddy won the Youth division.