By Garrett Stephens
So, after the RSVPs were tallied, everyone begins to show up. The house is spotless with every detail paid the attention it deserves. The bar is stocked with an array of praise-worthy libations. And you’ve labored for weeks over the perfect menu to wow your friends and family. After many hours of toiling in the kitchen and investing your heart and soul into your craft, you carve into your piece de resistance and … you start screaming to yourself, “Oh, @#$%! I can’t serve this disaster of a meal!”
Now, add the fact that you are demonstrating to your guests how expertly this meal was prepared so that they may repeat your deft skills for their friends and family and you now are experiencing the nightmare situation that I found myself in minutes before a recent County Line Pitmaster Cooking Series, which was supposed to have featured whole pit-smoked hog in a Cuban Mojo.
As I was slicing big, beautiful hunks of slow-roasted pork off from the perfectly caramel-colored and smoke-scented beast, I naturally tasted my efforts, only to discover that the quality of meat that I had put so much trust and responsibility into was nowhere near what it needed to be — and it was nearly time for the class to begin. This was not even close to the many pigs we had slow-smoked in the past, and far below our best effort. What in the world do I do now? Tickets to the class had been sold, guests were due to arrive any minute, and the most important dish on the table was not worthy of my name, our reputation, and most importantly, not worthy of our guests.
Well, after a tirade worthy of a TV reality kitchen show, a few tears and a subsequent trip to the bar, I did what any self-respecting cook/host should do: I threw that mealy old pig against the wall and kicked the apple right out of its mouth. The last thing I would ever do is put my name or the County Line name behind an effort that’s beneath us. After composing myself (and, of course, refunding all the tickets while putting out a wonderful spread of barbecue for those who did show on the house), I approached my guests. I explained what happened, we laughed over a cold one, and I could feel the genuine understanding and appreciation for they had for me. (OK, it may have been pity, but they were nice enough not to let it show.)
With enough attempts at the perfect culinary evening, we are all bound to have the proverbial rug pulled out from under our feet at some point. I think it’s important to realize that a disaster in the kitchen is not as bad as it may seem. Though my initial reaction to the pig disaster ran the gamut from embarrassment to anger, I knew that I had not made the fatal mistake of serving that course. Reputation still intact, we went on to have a great night of food and drink, even though it was not what we thought it would be. I guess I learned first-hand why we have our Emergency Kits of barbecue.
Garrett Stephens is the assistant general manager and pitmaster of The County Line, 10101 I-10 W. Click here for information on upcoming events, including more Pitmaster Classes, at the restaurant.