Marcel's Master Cook
    

Rhythm 'n QUE has the deepest appreciation for BBQ judges.  Some judges are on the road weekend after weekend, and travel nearly as many miles from contest to contest as teams do.  Judges don't have the chance to recoup any expenses through prize monies, as teams have; they're out there doing it for the love of the sport.  And the fact is, we can't do what we do unless they do what they do -- it's not a contest without judges.  

Among that group are those who have shown noteworthy dedication over time -- the Master Judges.  The Kansas City BBQ Society offers the designation of Master Judge to those individuals who have judged at least 30 contests, have cooked a sanctioned contest with a team, and have completed a written exam and passed with a score of 90% or better.  

That's a laudable commitment of time and effort to further the sport, and we were tremendously honored to be asked by Marcel Fortin if he could fulfill his cooking requirement with us at this fall's Lancaster, CA contest.  We've seen Marcel at contests for years.  Like many judges, he would stop by our camp after judging and chat.  We were always very impressed with the way he could give us generalities about his impressions of the contest from inside the judges' tent, yet was always careful to never reveal specifics.  His integrity, discretion and professionalism made it easy for us to open our camp to him, and let him see in detail our cook processes.

Marcel didn't intend to skate through the cook, either, or swan in and swan out as a "guest".  He told us that he was going to be waiting for us at our arrival at the venue, would stay onsite overnight, and would be there until we were packed up and waving goodbye when it was all over.  He was as good as his word, too, as he helped us set up camp and listened patiently through an entire briefing of what prep had already occurred and a summary of the process that was to follow.  Anyone who has ever gotten either of us wound up and talking about BBQ knows the kind of endurance you need for that!

After meat inspection Marcel and I prepped two meats that we intended for our dinner cook on Friday afternoon, and he rubbed and slopped right alongside me.  Then Marcel assisted Vince in setting up the WSMs and their Stoker hookups -- that experience would prove invaluable on Saturday morning.

The next integral part of a competition cook that Marcel experienced was no doubt every BBQer's favorite -- making turn-in boxes!  I handed him a styrofoam clamshell and a bag of parsley, told him to go to town, and was rewarded by a perfectly priceless blank look.  We walked through the mechanics of parsley-sorting, and Marcel produced a very creditable box on his first try.  When the dinner meat was ready, we staged it in Marcel's parsley box just to get in the practice, set it aside to simulate the wait an entry would have during renumbering and sorting, and were delighted to see that when the pieces were removed they didn't carry a stuck-on rug of parsley with them -- all the garnish stayed in the box!  Well done!

Marcel got the full overnight experience, too, complete with sporadic 90-minute naps in his zero-gravity chair in between meats having to be started or attended to, and the fire department across the parking lot sending engines out on calls.  Early on Saturday morning a sticky situation arose -- we had changed two elements of our cook, and schedule conflicts had been created.  There was too much going on for just one set of hands, so Marcel saved the day by restaging the WSMs and starting fires while Vince had his hands full.  Thanks to him, potential disaster was averted and all the meats stayed on schedule.

The rest of Saturday morning came with the rush of activity that it always does.  For a team as tightly choreographed as we are, Marcel nevertheless integrated seamlessly into the process, always keeping an eye on the clock and ready for the next move, fielding questions from passersby, giving the tiebreaking input when we were trying to decide between one piece of meat and the next, and blocking for me when it was time to run boxes.  

We all then observed the time-honored post-turn-in flop, where everyone collapses in a chair, cracks a cold one, and the obsessive post-mortem of the food products begins.

As it turned out, we hadn't quite run Marcel off his feet enough that day; he got a little more exercise at the awards ceremony too.  He put in some additional mileage taking the walks with us for 2nd chicken, 2nd ribs, 4th pork and Reserve Grand Champion.  He was supposed to get the full team experience, and by golly he did.

Of course, the full team experience isn't complete without realizing after awards that you still have to pack up.  We slogged through busting down camp, and just as he'd promised, he was there when the van door closed on the last of it.  From beginning to end, he'd been right beside us doing everything a teammate does.  He told us the next day that he went home and slept twelve straight hours!

This wasn't just a continuing education experience for Marcel -- it was an incredible learning experience for us as well.  Everything Marcel told us about his end of this sport that we all love highlighted his exemplary dedication to judging with diligence, impartiality, and thoughtful application of his years of experience.  It added another dimension to the gratitude and appreciation we feel for all those who take their judging just as seriously as we do competing, and it was a privilege for us to contribute to that process.

Thanks, Marcel!
    

 

    


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