By Keith Fisher
As you know, we’ve been talking about the upcoming World Championship Dutch Oven Cook Off. I hope you enjoyed our interviews with Ranes and Terry. Remember there are 21 teams. Ten of them will be in the semi-finals on Thursday. Ten others will be in the Friday Semi-finals. Five will emerge from each day, and compete against last year’s champions in the finals on Saturday.
Each cook off runs all day and you can visit the IDOS website for specific details. Also, during the events, there will be demonstrations, and classes, to help you learn more about the art of Dutch oven cooking.
There is another cook off on Sunday for professional chefs. Theirs, is the opportunity to prove their metal. Although, many of them are trained professionals in the culinary arts, cooking in a Dutch oven, over coals, is a different experience.
Today, I wanted to write a little about the history of the cook off, and take us back to the days of the first one. It’s hard to do, however, since the founder lives out of state, and most of the people who were there, aren’t around much anymore. Logistically, it’s just not possible for me to carefully research my subject in the time allotted. Therefore I’ll depend on others to correct my facts as I trudge forward and write my brief history as I understand it.
The Worlds Championship roots grow deep into USU soil. As I understand it, the first cook offs were held on campus. In those days they often dug fire pits into the grass and most of the cooking was done on the ground. The event lasted for more than one day and the cooks were required to make a vegetable dish as well as bread, main, and dessert.
If you compare the old days to now, those cooks truly were authentic to the nineteenth century time period as reflected in the Festival of the American West, which the cook off was part of. Somewhere along the way, charcoal briquettes, and cooking off the ground became standard.
The cook off evolved into a one day, three-pot event, but remained a part of the festival.
Along with the cook off, came the creation of International Dutch Oven Society. Administration and rules were maintained through them. Because of growing interest, IDOS developed the concept of the satellite cook off, and many cook offs sprang up, sending winners of those events to the championships.
The formula was simple. A cook off would be held in conjunction with Founders Day, or other event. Spectators learned a little about cooking outdoors, and then were treated to free samples.
The Festival remained on campus for many years, but the cook off moved in 1997 to Jensen Historic Farms in Wellsville, Utah. We were all in one big tent and the rules stated we do our cooking on some kind of raised table, 18 inches off the ground.
There were other rules that came along and judging techniques changed. As I understood it, one of the reasons for the cook off was to promote Dutch oven cooking and to teach the spectators, so field judges watched for spectator interaction. Through it all, the dishes grew more sophisticated. Gone, were the days of winning with a beef stew.
When I got interested in cook offs, I watched Worlds that first year. I went around to other events and got a feel for how it was done. The Big Dance was held in August and was the culmination of the cook off, season. There were a few events after worlds, but they counted as qualifiers for the next year. “The season” began in May but the first major cook off, of the year, was at Orem Utah.
The last competition held under the tent, was in 1999 when Brian Terry & Kent Mayberry won. The next year was held in the new pavilion located on the grounds of the American West Heritage Center, next to the Jensen Historic Farm. The cook off would never be the same. I missed the tent.
Along with other logistical problems, we had to carry our heavy equipment from the parking lot to the pavilion. Then, they offered handcarts. (Everything had to be authentic, even when protecting the lawn).
in 2001, IDOS, who owned the name of the cook off, and The USU festival committee parted ways, and in 2002, the event was moved to the International Sportsman’s Expo show. The logistics of cooking inside a building, lighting, and getting in and out, replaced the challenges of flies, wind, and weather. Also, because of many reasons, I’m sorry, but they don’t offer samples anymore.
On a personal note: Cooking in that building with the implied lighting and atmosphere seems to hamper many cooks. It’s hard to tell if your bread is really done, and the climatic control messes with cooking times and temperature.
The event changed to March, and the numbers of cook offs increased. As a challenge, with the Greater Wasatch Dutch Oven Society, I introduced a qualifying cook off held outdoors in January. Other events popped up, each one, with a new theme and cook’s challenge. The season now starts in January and ends in December.
There were brief episodes of change, then changing back. They were mostly just qualification issues. For a while it was a recipe contest to determine who would be invited. Now, we’ve gone back to the old way of qualification, but because of numbers, qualification means you are invited to compete in the semi-finals.
It has been a long road with a lot of challenges. Many selfless acts have been performed in behalf of the event. Many long hours were expended. Egos and hurt feelings often got in the way. Exhaustion takes a toll, but there is something that keeps this cook off going. Something drives the competitor to keep trying, year after year. Perhaps it’s to hear your name become synonymous with World Champion . . .
In 2005, My wife and I became the 20th World Champion Team. This year is the silver anniversary. The tradition continues.
Other than good food, and salivating spectators, one thing hasn’t changed. Cooks are still asked to teach the spectators. That effort has launched many enthusiasts on their way to the magic, (Some say madness) of Dutch oven cooking. See you at the Big Dance.
Come back tomorrow for more about the cook off. In the meantime, go to the IDOS website and get your discount coupon.