June 14th, 2024

Barbecue competition heats up the weekend

By Dale Woodard on July 13, 2021.

Herald photo by Dale Woodard Devynn Bohn, co-owner and pit master of Hickory Street in Stirling, gets a lesson on deboning a pig's head from chef Connie DeSousa of Char Restaurant Group Saturday afternoon at Smoke, Wind and Fire, Alberta's first Master Series Barbecue Competition. Saturday afternoon at Exhibition Park.

Meat was on the menu as Alberta’s first Master Series Barbecue Competition – Smoke, Wind and Fire -flared up Saturday and Sunday at Exhibition Park.
For Devynn Bohn, the co-owner and pit master of Hickory Street in Stirling who got a lesson on deboning a pig’s head from renowned chef Connie DeSousa and John Jackson of Char Restaurant Group in Calgary, the event was indeed well done as southern Alberta comes out of the COVID-19 pandemic of the past 15 months.
“This weekend is so fun,” said Bohn of the event sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society, the world’s largest competitive barbecue organization. “It’s so nice to have southern Alberta out again, everybody’s excited. And having an event like a KCBS-sanctioned event is amazing. So bringing barbecue to southern Alberta, which is meat and potatoes country anyway, is amazing. I’m excited that it’s here and the organization of this event has been phenomenal.”
On Saturday afternoon, Bohn got her lesson from DeSousa – who holds the record for deboning a pig’s head at 48 seconds – in front of a group of curious onlookers who were also served delectable samples by Jackson during the demonstration.
“It wasn’t as gross as I thought it would be, I survived just fine,” said Bohn. “It’s fun to learn at the hands of a master, somebody who knows what they’re doing. So it was really fun.”
There were, however, some techniques for Bohn to master.
“I thought it was interesting in following the bone and staying away from the skin,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about that stuff in what I’m doing now, so it was fun to learn that with her.”
The teacher gave the student ample praise.
“She did amazing, it is not an easy task to take the face off of a pig. She crushed it today, she did such a good job,” said DeSousa, who visited Bohn’s restaurant on Friday.
Jackson was also impressed.
“I would say her first time, she’s even faster than me right now.”
Bohn was flattered by her teacher’s praise.
“She is such a high-profile chef, especially in the meat industry, so I’m honoured,” she said. “We had a great time at the restaurant Friday. She came out and tried our food and checked out the smokers.”
The Smoke, Wind and Fire competition awarded prizes in four traditional grilling categories – chicken, ribs, pork, and beef brisket – providing an opportunity to learn about grilling and barbecue skills from expert demonstrators who offered samples of their charcuterie meats.
Grilling enthusiasts had the chance to enter a team into the Backyard Amateur BBQ Competition Saturday, judged by Jackson and DeSousa. Contestants competed in two categories – chicken and ribs – for the right to be named “Lord (or Lady) of the Grill.”
A Masters series was held Sunday for chicken, ribs, pork and brisket with awards handed out Sunday afternoon to wrap up the tasty event.
“With our Masters series, we had over 20 teams competing,” said Mike Warkentin, Chief Executive Officer for the Lethbridge & District Exhibition. “In Backyard (we had) seven or eight teams competing. We have food vendors on site all day and the public response to the event has been phenomenal. If you want to learn anything about unique expertise in barbecuing that these pros bring to the table and see some of the tools that they use, this is the event for you.
For Bohn, Smoke, Wind and Fire was her first competition.
“My goal was always to compete within three years of opening the restaurant,” she said. “We’ve been open not even a year-and-a-half and here we are competing. But I’m really excited, it made me up my game a little bit and I always like a good challenge.”
Jackson – who drove down to Lethbridge from Calgary on his bike – and DeSousa welcomed the chance to come to Lethbridge for the weekend.
“Lethbridge is an amazing community with awesome farmland artisan producers,” said DeSousa. “Quite a few of the products we serve in our restaurants come from in and around Lethbridge, so we’re always happy to come down and support southern Alberta.”
At their Saturday afternoon demonstration, Jackson spoke of efficient cooking.
“Our restaurant and our cooking style is very nose-to-tail,” he said. “It’s about utilizing whole products, everything from the simple vegetable all the way through to a pig or beef. You are using underutilized parts in different preparation and I think that’s critical. I think people want to know that you care about the food to that extent. People also want to know the stories about where their food comes from and understand that it’s not coming from a cellophane plastic wrap at a grocery store. We tell the stories through the food and how we utilize products.”
The COVID-19 pandemic of the past year has kept Jackson and DeSousa off the road, but prior to that the duo has dome ample globetrotting.
“We’ve had some amazing experiences traveling all around the world and working with amazing people from New York, San Francisco, Bora Bora to Germany and when we wanted to open up our own restaurant, we wanted to do it back home where we were surrounded by our friends and family and a great network of people,” said Jackson. “We like to go out and share with people how exciting Alberta is and tell stories about what cool things are happening. Our goal is always to put Alberta on a culinary map and collectively through all of the people we have met and all of the amazing restaurants in our industry I think we have done that. I think people are really going ‘Wow. What is happening in Alberta?'”
As for attempting to match her record of deboning a pig’s head in 48 seconds, DeSousa said she doesn’t suggest it.
“With a knife and all of the intricate cuts that go into taking the face off of a pig, I wouldn’t recommend doing it as fast as you can,” she said. “John and I train for it. Because it’s one of our signature items on our menu. We have a unique talent of being able to take faces off a pig very quickly. We do about two to three a week.”
Warkentin noted Jackson and DeSousa’s impact in the food industry.
“Connie and John’s whole mission in Calgary is to create a food environment based on sustainability and creativity and the power that food can have in building a community,” he said. “When the opportunity came to work with them it was a perfect match. They have been phenomenal ambassadors, not just for this event, but for agriculture all through southern Alberta.”
Warkentin said Smoke, Wind and Fire will become an annual event.
He said he even picked up a few BBQ tips from the weekend.
“But what is important is the demand to get back out and really embrace this style of event and secondly the importance of agriculture and the production that happens here in southern Alberta. This event has been a perfect fit and we look forward to doing it in the coming years.
“I had the opportunity to chat to a few of our guests and they are excited there are events going on here at exhibition park and that they are able to get out.”

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