On Tuesday afternoon, Betty sent an e-mail to me and JJ, telling us that Brooklyn Brewery was bringing a food competition to the Triangle. The theme was pork. Betty thought we’d like to know, after our near-success at the State Fair.
I read the e-mail, and my response back to Betty and JJ was, “Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.” Because the competition was in five days. And the requirement was to feed 250 to 300 people.
We received our entry confirmation on Thursday.
We did a feasibility study. We figured, what the hell, we already had a recipe worked out. We had one major liability, and one major asset. Liability: our original Team Bacon anchor, JJ’s wife PJ, was out of town, and she was our ace in the hole. She is a prizewinning cook. It’s documented. Asset: Julia just moved to a house with a spotless new kitchen, a block and a half from Motorco, the site of the competition. She said yes, without asking any questions.
By Friday, we had met the host and the competing chefs at a pre-party in Durham. We made friends. We drank Brooklyn beer at Dos Perros.
On Saturday, we started in earnest. We bought ten pounds of bacon, three quarts of cream, twenty-four sausage links, three pounds of hoop cheese, and two bags of Crook’s Corner grits. And extra-hot Blenheim’s ginger ale and snacks, because that’s what you do at the Farmer’s Market.
Then we stirred grits.
We grated cheese.
We made signs and business cards and costumes.
We cut out itty bitty cheese grit cakes.
Saturday evening, seriously overbooked for the weekend, I left for Cat’s Cradle, and JJ went home to prep sausage. By the time I made it home from Carrboro, well past midnight, it was feeling much like the night before a design review in grad school. It was a late night. And I was up at dawn. But we were ready. Mostly.
When we got to Julia’s house, she poured us coffee and made me eat a banana, because I was already on cup number three and talking really fast. We baked the grit cakes, and flipped the grit cakes, and baked the grit cakes again.
And then we started on the bacon. Oh the humanity. So much bacon.
The time was 9:30 a.m.
The rest of the morning was a blur. I was at the griddle, frying honey-glazed bacon for 300, until the air was a haze of bacon vapor. There was a lot happening around me. Julia flipped grit cakes and tended to curling bacon around dowels hanging over her sink, and JJ stirred the roux with the sausage.
“How are we doing?” Julia would ask.
“Gaa!” I would answer.
JJ would stroll over. “That’s a lot of bacon left to fry.”
JJ remained calm through it all. Even when I figured out we had left the green onions in my refrigerator in Raleigh.
Things got palpably tense between 10:15 and 10:45, with a mountain of bacon to go and one of us required to set up our table at 11:00. We knew this would be the case. Our dish is finely calibrated, which is to say, high maintenance. Bacon curls do not just appear out of thin air. A roux can turn on you in a heartbeat. Shrimp are finicky. JJ and I had discussed ahead of time that the morning would be a little harrowing, and then the afternoon would be a blast no matter what. “One of us might cry,” he pointed out, “and hell, it may just be me.”
“I just hope it’s not Julia,” I said.
We were a great team. Nobody cried, even when the griddle overflowed with bacon grease, and dripped down the new dishwasher, and created a skating rink on Julia’s brand new kitchen floor.
If memory serves, all hell broke loose in the 10:45 to 11:15 time frame. But it all came together. JJ had our Team Bacon table set up by the time we got the food to Motorco. It looked perfect.
That place was full of pros, y’all, hard-core competitors. There were serious. As predicted, as soon as we arrived, it turned from stressful to fun, because we had already pulled it off, sort of. We were there with 300 Carolina honey-glazed bacon-wrapped cheese-grit stacked shrimp and grits bites of deliciousness prepped. The Brooklyn Beer team started circulating and refilling our beverages. The doors opened. People started tasting.
It got crazy, all up in Bacon Land.
The event was a sell-out, with more than 325 people. Julia, having already won the Patient and Helpful and Supportive Friend award, was Team Bacon’s ambassador. She hand delivered our dish all the heck over the place. She circulated. She worked the crowd. She created buzz.
We handed out shrimp and grits bites hand over fist. The line just kept coming. I don’t remember pausing for so much as a second, other than to drink my Brooklyn Beer and have a thirty-second dance party in the corner when we got a quick break at the table. I wasn’t even tipsy. I was just giddy because we hadn’t set anything on fire, and because people were unbelievably nice about our food. A number of people came back for seconds.
We ran slam out of food by 2. That was perfect; we outlasted a lot of other competitors, and that gave us some time to catch up with our support group. Willow and Veronica came by to cheer, and we’d made a few other friends in the crowd.
After being subjected to a morning of bacon haze, I was not even a little bit hungry. I was on three hours’ sleep, and overcaffeinated, and hot, and I just wanted to sit and enjoy the crowd. I had not the slightest appetite. Until I saw the bacon ice cream. It was a tiny cup of restoration, healing, decadence, and true love, in a little paper cup. It was reminiscent of pralines and cream: rich vanilla, with a ribbon of caramel-y salty crunchiness. It was the perfect bite, after a room full of pork.
Well played, bacon ice cream. Well played.
Bacon ice cream won. I didn’t get to taste anything else, but I am here to say: bacon ice cream deserved that win. I would follow bacon ice cream to Brooklyn. I am rooting hard for bacon ice cream, because it gets to compete in the national Food Experiment. It should win that, too.
Here’s what we got: five days of fun, a crowd of new friends, a crazy good weekend, and the unique satisfaction of having done something terrifying, and lived to blog about it. I’m stealing this from Dooce, who stole it from another blogger, but on Friday I read the line, “You don’t get over the fear. You get over the fear of being afraid.” That’s a good reason to keep doing things that scare you, right there.
Oh, and we also got t-shirts that say: “Food Experiments: Beat Me or Eat Me.”
After the contest and an hour and a half of de-greasing Julia’s kitchen, we kidnapped the Food Experiments host, Theo, and poured him a bunch of bloody marys while we all dished about the weekend. This guy is ridiculously fun. We made all kinds of plans for the next round and tried to talk him into moving his family down to North Carolina.
I am wrecked today, just absolutely battered. I remembered as soon as I woke up that it’s not the day after a late night that hurts- it’s the day after THAT, which I learned over and over in grad school. I don’t think JJ was in much better shape, as the contest had almost killed him by 6 pm.
Worth it. We totally feel like winners. Epic bacon weekend, y’all. Epic fun. I can’t WAIT till the next one.