One incontrovertible fact was proved beyond dispute at the great national Cookout Championship for Men Only, held March 10 in the Ale Ale Kai Garden of the Hawaiian Village in Waikiki, Hawaii. Men cooking under pressure can be as calm as women, if not more so.
What woman, for example, might not have screeched and torn her hair if—like young Bob Haaheim, the mathematics teacher from Richfield, Minn. (he was on his honeymoon, yet)—she had to put together twice in the course of the five-hour contest the complicated structure of the Porcupineapple, a creation that consisted of an entire pineapple sliced into inch-thick pieces, skewered with pork chops in between, held together with a girderwork of toothpicks, basted with ginger honey sauce and fixed up, at the very last, with eyes, ears, nose and tail? Or what hostess, well aware of the pretensions of all her backyard-neighbor Joneses, would have had the cool nerve of George Gail Stout, the food salesman from Arvada, Colo., who prepared the simplest of dishes, sweetbreads en brochette, which was nothing more than sweetbreads skewered alternately with marinated mushroom caps and bacon, brushed with butter as they grilled?
Stout's nerve—and the skills he displayed—won him the $10,000 first prize put up by the Kaiser aluminum foil people, who sponsored the contest. It was no mean achievement to win the Kaiser Cookout, which very likely in coming years will rank with the Pillsbury Bake-off as the prime contest of its kind. Consider, for example, what Stout had to go through. His was one of more than 2,000 recipes entered, and all but 100 of these were eliminated before things even started getting to the cook-'em-and-taste-'em stage. Of the 100 left, 30 were chosen after being prepared and tasted by professionals. Of the 30, a final 25 were picked; their creators were invited to Honolulu to prepare their original dishes for five of the nation's best food judges: Clementine Paddle ford of This Week and the New York Herald Tribune, Julie Benell of the Dallas Morning News, Helen Robertson of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Isabel DuBois of the Chicago Daily News and Gaynor Maddox, the pepper-sharp expert of the NEA syndicate.
Shoveling out the grill
When Gail Stout got the word in February that he had made the finals, the weather around his Colorado home was extremely wintry, the temperature a pretty steady zero. Nonetheless, he had to practice, so he marched out into his backyard, shoveled his grill out of the snow and grimly skewered sweetbreads. "He kept on trying," his wife, Pat, recalled in Honolulu's warm sunshine the other day, "but it was no use. You just can't cook outdoors in zero weather. So we got a portable grill and he did his practicing inside."
Similar problems did not beset Arthur L. Butler Jr., the young vice-president of Johnson's department store in Scottsdale, Ariz. Where he lives, he can barbecue year-round. Butler faced, however, a challenge no less serious: in Gaynor Maddox's words, that of "competing with the kitchen stove," which is a grave disadvantage in competitive backyard cooking. The general idea, in a barbecue dish, is to produce something which, in its final flower, could only be produced on a barbecue grill; a dish to which the charcoal fire adds a final and unique touch of flavor, texture or appearance. Yet Butler chose to enter a strictly gourmet concoction involving, as its basic ingredients, spinach, wild rice, mushrooms, macadamia nuts, Parmesan cheese and lobster—and all of this encased in fresh coconuts with a hollandaise sauce that also had to be prepared right there on the grill. He pulled it off; he won one of the four Jeep station wagons Kaiser gave out as second prizes. As Julie Benell said afterward, "It was so absolutely gourmet that we just had to give it a prize."
The judges had difficult problems. In the course of five hours they had 25 dishes to sample and rate. Simple mathematics might indicate that this meant one dish every 12 minutes, but cooking is not as simple as mathematics. It was an hour and a half before the first dish came. Then there was a long lull. Then the judges suddenly were besieged by dish after dish. Every one of the five judges realized that the judging process could not be a hurried one, no matter how great the pressure (or, for that matter, how great the pangs of hunger or the indifference of satiety). Three main characteristics had to be considered: 1) originality, for which they could give a top score of 20 points; 2) flavor, for which the top score was 50 points; 3) attractiveness, for which the maximum was 30 points. Within these basic categories they had to consider such matters as aroma (Is it good? Tempting?), taste (Is it distinctive? Does it give you pleasure?), texture (Is it crusty where it should be? Not soggy or greasy?), overall appearance (Not scorched? Not underdone?), color (Is it pleasing? Golden-brown?) and arrangements and garnish (Original? Well presented?).
Taking all of these things into account, it is no wonder that tension was high in the Ale Ale Kai Garden when the contest got under way. It was a brisk, bright, windy day—perhaps a shade too windy (flambéing, for example, was impossible). The contestants, dignified and fit in their white caps and aprons, lined up to begin their formal march into the arena to the tune of The Road to Mandalay. Joan Crawford was on hand (she would ultimately present the winners with their prizes), and so were at least 250 spectators, who crowded against the hedges, the temporary fence set up around the garden and into the small bleachers put up at one end. At 10:17 a.m. the starting signal was given: "Gentlemen, good luck to you all—one, two, three, go!" and every man turned immediately to his grill. Seconds later, flames were busting out all over.
Hands that trembled
In the hour and a half that followed before the first dish was completed, it was interesting to observe how the different contestants worked at their different jobs. All, of course, were subject to the common pressures of time and money, and here and there were hands that trembled over the chopping board. "This is only the beginning," one said, trying hard to force a smile. Young Walkie Templin of Lakeland, Fla., one of the first to get his fire lit, was typically disparaging: "Nothing fancy here," he said, pointing to his work table, on which were only a juicy cut of steak, salt, pepper, butter and blue cheese. "I'll just get her ready, plant her in the grill and let her rip. Of course, it would help if I knew how to cook...." Cecil Gilman, 61, civil engineer in the Public Works Department of Concord, N.H., sat bowed and patient before his slowly turning Bar B Q Banquet Lamb—in the fashion of his New England forefathers, he had long since resigned his destiny. "It's in the Lord's hands now," he said. "I've done my best."