Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Got the call to the Big Leagues this weekend......

     Any fan of the blog already knows of my love of cooking and BBQ'ing.  It's been the topic of countless blogs and I've even shared a couple of my recipes with you (Uncle Bill's Clam Chowder) and (Armadillo Eggs).  It is rare that I get to go to a party with fabulous food, and not contribute something, but that has been exactly the case for one party, for a few years, but it all changed this weekend.....

One view of a few tables at the Big Cook
     Have you ever gone to an event that was so awesome that you immediately block your calendar off for the following year, just in case you get invited back? That was my experience with my first Big Cook.  We got to know a couple, John and Stacey, through our children's participation in the Drama Club, and we received an invitation to the party.  "What can we bring?" we inquired, but the response was, "Nothing, all the food and beverages are provided for our guests".  When I pushed back a little and said, "I'm pretty handy in the kitchen, are you sure you don't want me to make something?", the answer I got back surprised me even more, "Oh"  they said "Then, You'll have to try out for the team next year".  Try Out?  What kind of party do you have to audition to cook for?  I was immediately reduced to my seventh grade self, standing in gym class, with the remaining 3 people not chosen yet to play dodgeball.  This time, however, I was bound and determined not to lose out to Chunky and Four Eyes.  I was going to the Big Cook to see what it was all about.

     The Big Cook was started by John's father to set one day aside to celebrate exceptional food with his family, and friends.  John and Stacey carried the tradition across the PA border with them and have hosted it up here for about 7 years.  It is a Cowboy Cookout of the finest order.  An array of cookers and grills are
John's custom built cooker/smoker
circled on a slate cooking area, full of meats that are roasted, and seared, and brushed and rubbed lovingly with sauces and marinades. The smell of woodsmoke and the clang of cast iron pots abound. A huge kettle swings on a cable and pulley system over an open fire pit and that's used just to provide the sweet corn for the party.  A tent is erected each year now to help hold the guests.  How many, you ask?  About 300, plus.  There are wine and beer tastings from local producers and the whole theme has evolved over the years to supporting the local farmers and producers.  The event is free to all guests, but the last couple of years, the dessert contest had a $5 entry fee to support NOFA-NY, (Northeast Organic Farming Association) and a small auction that benefits one of the most active FFA clubs, (Future Farmers of America) in the area from Penn Yan NY.   Don't mistake this for a fundraiser, this is a party, pure and simple, but now a party with a purpose.

     I hadn't auditioned to become one of the cooks on purpose, as I had mentioned before, it was nice to
Our custom built cooker with flames coming out
have a party where there was exceptional food that I didn't have to prepare.  This year, however, my brother Ace and I got the call up, to come and join the group, and our audition was waved.  I say waived, but I suspect that we earned it with our cooking and catering at countless graduation parties and events, that John and Stacey had attended.  One of the main cooks, Carl, who owns a fantastic custom meat and cheese market in Cuba NY, could not attend this year, so we stepped in to help out.  Incidentally, if you ever find yourself near Cuba NY, you owe yourself a visit to Mak's Meat and Cheese for some really unique items. We were happy to step in, but we had no hope of filling the shoes of a guy like Carl, who eats and breathes custom meats and has been cutting and cooking them for decades.  Although he couldn't make it, he contributed his Wild Leek and Sicilian Sausage again this year, that was just knock your socks off good.   It's
Nick loading the ribs
a little intimidating pulling into a BBQing circle with the likes of the talent that the Big Cook has, although it makes it a little easier when you pull in with a 13 foot custom made smoker and grill that used to hold missiles.  It's a toss up whether John or I have more grill envy of our respective cookers, but truth be told, they are both pretty sweet.  John's was built in North Carolina and opens on 2 sides and has a warmer box above the fire pit.  Ours has a 48" restaurant grill above the firebox that came off a local hotel's stove.  It has the flavor's imbued in it from 3 decades of cooking and makes everything that comes off it taste great.  We were in charge of the Pork Butts this year, which we rubbed 2 days before and slowly cooked for 14 hours with apple and assorted hardwoods.  Since we were up so early to monitor the pork, we threw some bacon, eggs, hash
browns, and home fries on the grill and got the crew's morning started right.  We'd like to make that an annual tradition, if we get called back, that is.  I think we fit right in with the cooking crew, which this year included John's nephew Nick, and his chef friend Cliff (they cooked all the baby back ribs), and Mark the neighbor who cooked Bison steaks.  John's son, Ben and my son Dan, got in on the action as well and put out some of the most delicious chicken that I'd ever had.  It was injected with Grandpa's family marinade, seared and then roasted, and it was delicious.  The meat selections were rounded off with some Greek style roasted lamb, some roasted
Mark, the Bison man.
Cabrito (small Goat), and some maple applesauce pork.  If I've given the impression that the feast is protein laden, it's only because I haven't yet talked about the rest of the table.

     The Big Cook wouldn't be complete without Stacey's golabki, the traditional Polish stuffed cabbage roll.
John the host with Gary the event coordinator
A family friend makes a killer corn bread which is a great accompaniment to all the smoked and roasted meats.  Huge kudos have to go to Jason, who shows up to a cowboy cook-off with a salad, but a salad that rocks, it's a Salcipon Salad made with flank steak and served with a chipotle dressing.  This year there were stuffed zucchini's, roasted root vegetables, baked polenta with heirloom tomato sauce, traditional baked beans, NY State mac and cheese and Ellie's mushroom dish, that went so fast, I never got to taste it.  A vegetarian could be well satisfied at the Big Cook, but I'm still glad I'm not one of those.  The hosts are so serious about the event, they even built a Cookhouse to help support it, with a full commercial kitchen with sub zero freezer,stainless steel refrigerator, a broiler, 2 ovens, a 6 burner range, and a pair of stainless steel prep tables.  The inside is done in Cowboy Chic with cast iron pots and farming implements adorning the walls and
Dan, me and our host Stacey at breakfast
heavy barn beams laid across the ceiling.  A slate counter bisects the interior and a patio with long bar completes the Cookhouse.  It's a great centerpiece of the party.  Speaking of centerpieces, the Big Cook is fortunate to have Gary, who organizes the seating, the buffet and takes care of all the small touches that make the Big Cook go so smoothly. He's a one-man Cowboy Cook-off pit crew.  To complete this blog and the event, I'll quickly describe the dessert contest.  It's open to anyone who attends and the the entries are judged by taste, appearance and the use of local ingredients.  I entered deep fried cheesecake last year and was passed over for any recognition, but my wife's carrot cake took a solid second this year, clearly showing who should stay in the kitchen and who should stay in the BBQ pit, in our family.  If you are not hungry after reading this blog, then clearly you have no love of food.   That's my story of our call to the Big Leagues, I think we pulled it off, but we'll know next Spring when we get the call or not, to come to the Big Cook. 

The Cookhouse kitchen with chef Cliff


Anonymous said...

My invitation must have gotten lost in the mail.

gilligan said...

what a great idea. would love to be part of something like it

Kim Whimsical said...

This is a fantastic event!! Something so unheard of in todays world...everyone is invited and I am so proud that my Dad John Richard Grabski started this and my brother John Richard Grabski II his wife Stacey and family and neighbors and friends continues and how awesome that the next generation, Ben, Ellie, Nick, Cliff is happy to be involved and so talented as well!!! thank you to everyone who had this vision and dream and brought all this to pass every year... Last year my sisters Libby, Amy and Jennifer were here and we will be again..to this years Big Cook I say Bravo Grabski's and Crew Bravo!!!!!!

kwhimsical420 said...

I would also like to thank Bill, the author of this blog for a fantastical write up on the Big cook this year!!! and I hope he will write on it again next year thank you Bill!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I live down the road from John and Stacey,and you couldn't ask for more wonderful people to have as neighbors! We keep honeybees, and have some hives on their property, not too far from the Cook House. The bees do very well there. The Big Cook is one of the highlights of our year.

Anonymous said...

Hands down the best pulled pork on the entire planet. Only 362 days to go before next year's Big-Cook...what do we do in the meantime. oh did I hear about the BiG-Soup held on the winter solstice?

Orthodontist Chicago said...

Thank you for the post!

Daphne Mays said...

So often I leave hungry after reading your blog!