Wednesday, April 30, 2008

INTERVIEW: Jerry Mullane; Contest Rep

Jerry Mullane is a restaurateur, an event representative for the KCBS, a raconteur and an official Certified BBQ Judge instructor. We are delighted that he has agreed to this interview.

For those that follow the rumors and murmurings of the BBQ world, Jerry is a legend. He once killed a man for over seasoning his brisket. He has been known to stop time to allow contestants to get their turn-ins in before the clock ticks 5 after. Although married to the wonderful Linda Mullane (who is on the KCBS Board of Directors), Jerry has sired children on 8 of the 7 continents. Much like Paul Bunyon and Pecos Bill, Jerry strides through American myth and legend like the giant he is.

If we receive his assent, we may speak with Jerry in the future about training new judges, but we wanted to concentrate on repping at events for this interview.

Let’s get some background before we start. How did you enter the world of BBQ?

Back in 1995 my son Chris was an exceptional soccer player. He played on a number of teams at the same time, so Linda and I were constantly going to games and tournaments. Each weekend was booked and we had a steady stream of friends, like us who were traveling every weekend.

Well the last game of Chris’s junior year in High School he broke both his Tibia and Fibia bones. Although he did play again he did not want to play on teams other than his High School. So suddenly we found we had our weekends open. After seeing an ad looking for BBQ judges, in the local newspaper, Linda and I attended a CBJ class, and judged our 1st BBQ competition the following day and we’ve been hooked ever since.

Who was the person (or people) that had the most impact on you as you got into the competition scene?

There have been a number of people that had a major impact on my BBQ Odyssey. The 1st people were Bob and Debbie Pelt our trainers. Butch Lupinetti of Butch’s Smack Your Lips BBQ, who we met at our 1st contest, became a good friend and mentor. Mark Gelo of The New England Barbecue Society who requested and then trained us to become the reps we are, and for that matter the entire NEBS organization has always showed us friendship right from the beginning even though we were from “Jersey”.

Most of all I would have to say the greatest impact of our BBQ Odyssey was Jack McDavid, formally from The Food Network show Grillin and Chillin with Jack McDavid and Bobby Flay. Jack, although a celebrity always took time to mentor me, even today. The funny thing is he always seemed more excited than me at any of my “awards or accomplishments”. He truly is what BBQ is all about and a true statesman for Competitive BBQ. He is a fountain of knowledge whether it be BBQ, cooking in general or just day to day BS. Warning: Don’t discuss politics.

Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, there is no better hog cooker than Jack. Just ask him. Just kidding. I am proud to call him a friend and a mentor.

Where is your restaurant located and what is your specialty?

Our restaurant is located in Drexel Hill, PA right outside of Philly. We specialize in Roadkill. As a matter of fact our motto is “You Killem, We Grillem. Seriously we do southern style BBQ, cooked low and slow. We also do Tex Mex and some Cajun/Creole, but mostly straight forward BBQ, Take Out and Delivery only.

How did you segue into an official role at events?

Mark Gelo of NEBS was scheduled to Rep the North Wildwood, NJ contest and had a work conflict. He knew we lived in NJ and asked if we would be willing to rep the contest in his place. He would train us over the next three contests and then we would work under Ed Roith and Lee Henry for our final contest. At that point we would be released on our own after the contest. Due to unfortunate circumstances Ed came in alone, and he decided we would be the Reps for the contest. He would be there for guidance if needed. As it turned out all went well and Ed was able to enjoy his trip to the Jersey Shore.

What is the job of an Event Representative?

Basically a rep is the go between from the Organizer, cooks and judges. It is our job to make sure all contest rules are obeyed. We arrive the 2 days before the contest and greet the teams as they arrive the following morning. Most of the contests we do now are either 1st year events or larger contests. In 1st year contests’ there is a lot of trepidation on the part of most organizers. Teams are usually skeptical and unsure just how they are going to be treated. Both organizers and teams feel relief when we are there. We have gotten to know most teams over the years and have earned a reputation as being fair and honest. Teams know they are on a level playing field when Linda and I oversee a contest.

How many events have you ‘worked’?

We have judged roughly 50 contests as CBJ’s and repped about 75.

What is your normal event schedule? How many events do you work a year? Do you attend any events as a competitor, judge or fan?

We begin the season usually in March with a few CBJ’s classes. Our first contest is usually in April in Salisbury as fans you might say. It’s great to see old friends in a relaxed atmosphere, for us anyway. Throughout the next 6 months we run several CBJ classes and rep roughly 14 contests. If time permits we try to compete at least once during the summer. Time for us to judge has become almost nonexistent.

What is the biggest problem that a competitor can avoid by proper preparation?

STRESS. We always suggest that cooks be prepared, by knowing the rules, both KCBS and any that the contest organizer might have included with the cooks packet. The biggest obstacle that a competitor can avoid is stress. Be prepared by knowing the rules and turn in times. We always cover both at the cooks meeting. Work Backwards. By now the competitor should know how long it will take to get to the turn in table. Remember possible crowds of on lookers. How long it takes to plate after garnishing? How long does it take to slice and or select the product you will be turning in as your sample? How long before do you need to remove your product from your smoker or grill? You want to practice, practice and practice until all of these times become routine. By knowing your capabilities and time frame you can eliminate much of the stress of competing. You will never get away without some stressful moments - This is BBQ – some days are diamonds and some days are stones. If you remember to stay enthusiastic and upbeat – If you tell yourself – It’s only BBQ, to quote a former board member, then you can be sure you’re going to have a good time no matter what the final outcome. There will always be another contest down the road. Let’s enjoy this one and remember there are NO STUPID QUESTIONS. If you feel funny asking in front of other cooks, wait until after the meeting and we can discuss anything then.

What services can you offer a competitor as the Event Representative?

We try to stress the “KISS” system. If a competitor will keep his or her entries basic and not try to overwhelm the judges they will do much better at the CBJ table. In the Chicken, keep it simple – 6 thighs or 6 legs, etc. If you try to add variety it can work against you when a judge has their eye on a piece of dark meat and when it is their turn to take from the box all of the dark meat has already been taken.

Pork – If you do one thing well don’t try to overwhelm the judges with additional choices. Judges are told to score each type of meat presented separately and divide by the number of types. If you do great pulled pork and a judge gives you a 9 but then he judges your sliced a 5 you are going to end up with a 7.

As I said Keep it simple. Judges have enough to think about without doing math. I also try to tell the new cooks what I’ve seen, what presentations score high and what ones have scored low. But once again, a different day and different contest, each one is a crap shoot. It all depends on the judges table that day.

What services can you offer the event organizer as the Event Representative?

With a new event we like to meet and greet with the organizer in advance, even in the prior year, if at all possible. We also like to visit the proposed contest site to see how it will conform to a BBQ contest. We have visited a couple of sites that were actually on the side of a hill and one at a ski resort. The organizer thought it would be great to do the contest right on the ski slope, roughly a 45 degree angle.

Now Linda will hold their hands and explain what makes a “Cooker Friendly” event. She emphasizes the needs of the cookers over the needs of the organizers if they plan on making their event even bigger in the following years.

We recently developed a Power point presentation, which we present to charitable, civic and fraternal organizations. We personally are not big fans of the “for a buck” organizers. We have seen a number of contests come and go when the profit is for someone’s pocket as opposed to a charity or non profit where the proceeds will promote BBQ and be used for humanitarian activities.

What part of the process is the most difficult for you?

DisQualifications- There is no doubt that this is the most unpleasant part of our job, but a necessary evil. I believe that a team that is DQ’d deserves to have the reason explained by the rep immediately following discovery and not wait until results are handed out and then have to approach the reps for the reason. This is especially important with new teams, they need the reinforcement of the rep explaining the reason for the DQ and it gives them time to be consoled by the other teams, many of whom have experienced a DQ themselves. I feel waiting until the end does an injustice to the team and does absolutely no “Customer Service” to a member of our family.

What part of the process is the most enjoyable for you?

Knowing the results and watching the teams try to figure out after the 4th category awards have been given out which team will be called for Reserve Grand Champion and Grand Champion.

I guess another part of “enjoyment” has come from seeing old friends again, but also watching new teams become part of our family, that we will see at future contests even if their results are not what they were hoping for. We try to explain that this is the beginning of a long journey and each journey begins with a single step. We encourage them to study their results and make the changes they feel necessary and try again. Practice makes perfect. Get out on the forums. Ask questions, read books by the masters, Ray Lampe, Mike Mills, Paul Kirk, etc. Take a class if you can. The guys above who are teaching can save you years of struggle with their tips and techniques. I know they worked for me. We are currently working with Current and Past Grand Champions as well as rookie teams to present classes for all levels of competition at realistic prices that even the occasional Q’er can afford.

What can an event organizer do to make your job easier?

Hold the contest next to Hooters.
Seriously, have enough CBJ’s and volunteers.
Then have them come into Hooters to sign in.

Ask questions. Not that I am tooting your horn but you are probably the most “Attention to Detail” organizer we have ever worked with. When not solving a problem you were asking how you could make it better next year, and your efforts will prove fruitful as your contest grows.*

Our biggest problem is always the # of CBJ’s and qualified table captains. With NO SHOW CBJ’s being as high as 25% at some contests last season, a minimum of 10% extra judges are needed. If all show we will find work for them and they will all get to sample excellent BBQ. I personally feel there is no greater sin then to have non certified, non experienced judges pulled in from the public to judge a State Championship. With teams spending Thousands of dollars to compete at a contest, expending their time and sweat, and then to have the organizer not do their job to insure we have 100% certified judges. I have been approached by many CBJ’s who have applied to a contest and told either the contest is full or not receive any reply at all.

Most are not going to take a chance and just show up, especially with gas prices today. On the day of the contest we end up being short CBJ’s and have to draw from the low end of the pool. BTW, we always check to be sure we do not have a vegetarian hidden amongst the group.

What is your favorite memory as an Event Representative?

I guess I have to say that my favorite memory is not necessarily BBQ relevant.
On July 4, 2006, the birthday of our country, Dmitry Feld, organizer of ILBBQF in Lake Placid, a former Russian Luge Competitor who defected to the US at the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, took me by the hand and lead me to the center of the Olympic Oval and told me, “Here right here, Eric Hyden was awarded 5 Gold Medals in the 1980 Olympics.”

His enthusiasm is contagious, as any team who has competed in Lake Placid will tell you. Dmitry is a special friend to BBQ, and promotes it to everyone he comes in contact with. Not only did I feel awed by the experience, but it was being told to me by a true American who knew what most of us take for granted.

This is the best country in the world and we should recognize this every day.

With all the controversy regarding the war, Gary Maddox (former Secretary of Defense), of the Philadelphia Phillies, once told me “It’s time we separate the Warrior from the War”

The Warriors do a job so that we can all enjoy freedoms which so many of us take for granted.

We are the home of the Free, because of the Brave. Each day we should take a moment and remember our Sons and Daughters, Sisters and Brothers, in the Military. They make it possible to do what we love.

OK enough preaching

How does someone go about becoming an Event Representative for the KCBS?

Becoming a rep right now at this moment is not possible.
A moratorium on new rep trainees known as RATS has been put in place.
Contact Carol Whitebook, the chairperson of the Reps Committee and express an interest. I know some sections of the country could use additional reps.
You must also be sponsored by a current rep.

How has the role of an Event Representative evolved as you have been involved?

More teams = more work

When we started 16 teams was a large contest. Today our average contest is probably “50” teams. We do a lot more hand holding today than in the past. Not only at contests but on the net as well. 3 to 4 weeks before a contest we will receive maybe 40 –50 emails with questions. “Can I do this?” “Is this Legal?”, etc. And this is a good thing. If we are aware of a team “pushing the envelope” we can address it at the CBJ table and assure judges, ‘yes this is legal’, even if it has not been seen before. We always encourage teams to let us know if they want to try something that is “A little outside the box” so to speak. I have heard of a lot of DQ’s that could have been avoided had the reps had a “heads up” and been knowledgeable about what a team way trying to do.

Our CBJ’s are still trained to look for faults, not positives and I don’t think in a competitive sport such as ours this will ever change. With blind, non-comparative judging, it is sometimes hard to see positives in one entry.

Your affiliation is with the Kansas City BBQ Society. Are there parallel roles in other sanctioning bodies? Have you ever worked with other bodies?

Parallel roles are in all associations such as MIM now MBN (Memphis Barbecue Network), FBA (Florida Barbecue Association), IBCA (International Barbeque Cookers Association) out of Texas, CBA (Canadian Barbecue Association) or any of the other associations that sanction their own events.

Linda and I have spent some time studying as well as judging and competing in Memphis in May. The main difference between MIM and KCBS is MIM’s onsite judging and comparative blind judging with one entry receiving a judges “10” and others receiving lower scores and utilizing decimals.

We are currently working with the CBA to insure they have judges trained in the KCBS system but also able to cross over and judge their own CBA sanctioned events.
I personally find good and bad in all judging systems, including KCBS, but that’s for another Podcast when my alter ego “Pig Daddy” arrives and no holds are barred.

Thank you for your time Jerry and I look forward to seeing you at many future BBQ competitions.

Thank you for the opportunity Eric. Now where do I get paid?

We paid you compliments in the opening of the interview.

* Jerry is referring to the ‘Battle of the BBQ Brethren’ that I helped to organize/run on Long Island last year.


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