Good at the grill

Aug. 07, 2013 @ 08:28 AM

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the rain held off just long enough for a crowd to gather at the West 94th St. Pub in Woodcroft Shopping Center to sample some pretty amazing food from local grill masters while listening to a great set from Plan B Durham Band, all in the name of a good cause.

And I had the thought that I am lucky to have s job that allows me to go to events like this, where I get to have fun, meet people and judge some wonderful food.

For the seven competitors in the Grill Masters event, it meant putting themselves out there. It’s tough enough cooking for a crowd, never mind a group of strangers who are holding your chicken up against someone else’s. And while all had dabbled in grilling and wowing friends and family with their abilities, competing was something new.

Joined by John Huisman (aka Triangle Explorer), Kathy Hanrahan with WRAL “Out & About,” and Durham Magazine Editor Matt Dees, we made the rounds to each of the competitor’s tables to give our two cents’ on what the competitors had prepared. And it was darn hard.

Each grill master was tasked with presenting grilled corn and chicken, and then they also could opt in on a specialty of their choosing that would be judged separately. Each chicken had its own distinct character – one of the grill masters grilled then pulled the chicken, mixing it into a chicken salad. Some spiced it up. Others had a sweet and smoky flavor. The corn ranged from served in-husk to buttery sweetness to a little bit of kick.

I ate and I weighed characteristics, I chatted with the grill masters as they prepped their food. The sauce stuck to my fingers, deliciously. People in the crowd waited patiently for judging to finish so they could dive in. Smoke rolled off the grills, carrying the aroma.

It was yummy and interesting. It was something I want to do again!

When the smoke began to clear, Jay Adams emerged as the winner. His assistant at the grill was his 11-year-old son.

Jay is a fan of all-natural flavors. His mother’s family is from down east, and he grew up around cooking. It was his first time officially competing. And he loves to grill or smoke any meat.

Jay is also trying to launch his own sauce, which has sea salt, molasses and some secret ingredients. He’s working with a consultant and Blend Café at Golden Belt to get it off the ground. website will be launching soon.

In addition to bragging rights, he won a trip to Vegas. Not bad for a Saturday afternoon at the grill.

The event was about more than finding some of the area’s best backyard chefs. The Pub has a tradition of finding ways to help in the community. Each year, it puts on the St. Balderick’s, which  benefits childhood cancer research. It’s working on a benefit for the Ronald McDonald house this fall. The Grill Masters competition helped feed the hungry. To get a sample, those attending needed to make a monetary donation or bring a food donation for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC. The driving force in finding ways to help the community is restaurant and event manager Kerry Bryant, whose mother, Sarah Bonner, opened the Pub’s doors in 1994. Kerry got the idea of helping the Food Bank after hearing about its Stop Summer Hunger program. The event wound up bringing in $450 in monetary donations and more than 1,800 pounds in food donations. The timing, according to Christy Simmons with the Food Bank, was perfect because summer is a time when donations decline and when children who receive free- and reduced-price meals are out of school.

The Pub is planning to add the Grill Master competition as a yearly event, in hopes of continuing to raise funds for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC. If you are free next summer, round up some canned food and come for a taste.

And Jay was happy to share one of his favorite grilling recipes.

Jay’s Grilled Maple Crusted Salmon

1 fresh salmon filet side

1/2 stick of salted butter

1/4 cup of real maple syrup

Old Bay seasoning

Sea salt

Teaspoon of lemon juice or fresh lemon quarter

Get your charcoals gray and hot. Use a grilling fish rack if available, if not rub olive oil on the skin. Rinse your filet well to remove scales. Sprinkle Old Bay Seasoning, lightly covering the filet. Lightly sprinkle sea salt. Let sit for about 5 minutes. During those 5 minutes get your 1/2 stick of salted butter in a saucepan and pour 1/4 cup of real maple syrup with the butter. Place the salmon filet on the grill flesh down, skin up just to sear it no more than a minute, then flip skin down. Melt your butter/ maple mixture. Get your salmon medium rare to medium. Glaze the flesh with butter/maple mixture.  Remove filet from over the fire and close the hood to crust the filet for few minutes. Plate the salmon, and squeeze the lemon quarter over the filet. 

Nancy Wykle is metro editor for The Herald-Sun.