So by now most of you know that I just got back from a trip to Florida courtesy of the fine folks at Char-Broil. I am one of their All-Stars, a team of bloggers who are passionate about grilling and outdoor entertaining. Most of the team met each other last year, but I was sick and had to miss the trip. Despite my exhaustion after attending the IACP conference, there was no way I was missing out on the fun this time!
Char-Broil certainly knows how to throw a party! There was plenty of work for us to do, learning about the new line of equipment, the history of the company and primary selling points, plus pointers on how to be successful in on-camera situations. But once that was done we had a wonderful time enjoying the local cuisine, the beach, and the great team of fun people they have assembled. It is truly a family feel, and this was one heck of a reunion, LOL!
The meeting was held at ONE OCEAN Resort, a beautiful luxury destination right on the Atlantic Ocean in Northeast Florida near the Georgia border. I have stayed in many fancy hotels, but this one has truly remarkable service. Each guest is assigned their own valet who sees to anything they need, making every person feel like royalty. This must be how the rich people live!
While everyone had met each other last year, I was the new kid this year and a bit nervous. But I didn’t need to worry. Everyone was incredibly kind and welcoming. Within an hour I felt as though I had known these folks for years and was just one of the gang. I love these folks!
Let me introduce you to the team:
Catherine Mayhew: The South in my Mouth is the kind of woman I aspire to become. She is the author of The Handy Mom’s Guide to Grilling, a restaurant critic, broadcaster and CEO of a nonprofit organization in Nashville, TN. She is always ready for a laugh and a good time. That sounds pretty perfect to me!
Chef Christo Gonazales: Chez What, a native of New Mexico, he now proudly represents the New York City food scene as a private chef and running a catering company. He is always coming up with something creative and beautiful to share on his blog. He won last year’s grilling competition and it is no wonder when you see the amazing recipes he shares.
Curt McAdams: Live Fire is a delightful gentleman from Ohio who is a grilling expert, certified barbeque judge and all around great guy. He is extremely creative and there isn’t anything he won’t cook on a grill. I drool over his food photography and am grateful for his generosity and critiques!
Danielle Dimovski: DivaQ puts the “International” in this team. She hails from Ontario, Canada, is the busy mother of three and Canada’s highest ranked competitive BBQ’er, traveling around Canada and the U.S. competing in a variety of grilling competitions. With her BBQ trophies, television appearances (including the Today Show), and food writing triumphs, Danielle could afford to be a bit standoffish, but she is as down to earth and lovely as can be. I was thrilled to be her teammate for this year’s grilling competition! Make sure you keep your eyes open for her new television show “BBQ Crawl” coming next month!
David Olson: A Bachelor and His Grill brings his passion for life to the grill, thrilling us with his amazing creations. David lives in Grand Rapids, MI and exemplifies the generosity and warmth that I love about anyone from the Midwest. Whether he is out for a jog, scaling a mountain, diving in the ocean, cooking for a crowd or taking care of his two beautiful children, he does it with total commitment and focus.
Julie Reinhardt: She Smoke is the author of “She Smoke: A Backyard Barbecue Book” and co-owner with her husband of Smokin’ Pete’s BBQ restaurant in Seattle, WA. If you have ever dreamed of being a caterer and cooking for famous people, check out Julie’s incredible tips for success. This is one gal who knows how to do it right and loves to share her secrets. It’s a good thing Julie and I don’t live near each other or we probably would be too busy having fun to get anything done, LOL!
Scott Thomas: Grillin’ Fools has an infectious love of life approaches every task with a smile and positive attitude. He is a celebrity in his hometown of St. Louis, MO, a featured food writer, television and radio guest and he wants to show everyone that anything can be cooked on a barbecue grill whether it is wild game, grilled cheese sandwiches, meatloaf, or taking an ordinary ingredient like chicken wings and transforming them with a crazy concoction of orange soda and hot sauce. If Scott is in the house you know you’ll have a great time!
Now, don’t you want to party with this eclectic, incredibly talented and fun crowd! Each one brings something completely unique to the plate and I am constantly learning from all of them. I am so grateful to be part of this team and the Char-Broil family!
Now, back to Florida…
Our time together culminated in a “Chopped”-style grilling competition, something I was dreading and excited for at the same time. We were divided into teams of two and I was thrilled to be paired with Danielle. We were given a platter of ingredients that we were required to incorporate into our dishes. Everything had to be cooked on the grills – there were no other cooking implements available. We had to name our team, create a name for the dish we made and photograph the dish, all in less than 30 minutes!
You never know what they might throw at you and this year was no exception. Despite Catherine’s conviction that we were going to see Marshmallow Fluff in our mystery ingredients, the Char-Broil team was slightly more forgiving. Our platters arrived and were filled with Red Snapper, calamari, large prawns, sun-dried tomatoes, collard greens, a blood orange and dark chocolate. Right away Danielle and I started thinking about where we were going to photograph our dish and what would work together.
Danielle and I approach food in a very similar way and worked together seamlessly. We each innately understood who would do what – I’m no fool, I let the barbecue champion man the grill while I did a lot of the prep and garnishing, LOL! Because Danielle is known as DivaQ it was easy to come up with our team name … The Diva and The Dame. Our dish incorporated so many elements from the ocean that it practically named itself, “Bounty of the Sea.” All that was left was to cook it.
We threw the collard greens straight on the grill, wilting them slightly and getting a little char and smoke on them. When I saw the calamari and prawns my mind immediately went to making a stuffed calamari using some of the shrimp and other ingredients. I finely chopped the sun-dried tomato, collard greens, a couple of the grilled shrimp and one of the calamari, seasoning it lightly with the supplied salt, pepper, and Old Bay. Danielle used this to stuff the remaining calamari, cutting a slice in one side to keep them from curling up during cooking. They were tossed onto a water-soaked cedar plank and popped onto the fire.
We had a little extra filling so the brilliant Danielle grabbed a decorative shell that was on the table and filled that – so beautiful! The snapper begged for a simple dry rub, letting its natural flavors shine. The extra shrimp got a spicy coating with some hot sauce and more Old Bay for good measure. A splash of white wine over everything and the lid was closed.
We were about halfway done when the judges announced a change. Instead of the 30 minutes we originally had, they docked us 8 minutes. So we had only 22 minutes to get everything cooked, plated, photographed and delivered to the judges. Whew, that was the fastest 22 minutes in history!!!
Now it was time to tackle the blood orange and chocolate ingredients. Chocolate Mondays to the rescue! My years of writing different chocolate recipes made it easy to come up with a sweet/savory sauce that would complement the seafood. All I needed was some sort of pan I could use on the grill to make the sauce. The Char-Broil team brought each of us a large piece of foil and I folded it into a rectangle about 6-inches by 4-inches with 1/2-inch sides creating a mini saucepan of sorts. It worked perfectly.
I finely chopped the chocolate and added some of the blood orange juice. It was pretty sweet so I also added a little lemon juice for acidity, a pinch or two of seasoned salt and lots of ground black pepper to take it more to the savory side. Onto the fire and the chocolate quickly melted. There were no spoons, so I stirred it with my immaculately clean finger, tasted it, adjusted the seasonings slightly and we were ready to go. It was a very quick and simple spin on a mole sauce. Danielle was thrilled with the final result and I was happy to be able to contribute a little of my skills to our dish.
While the fish, shrimp and calamari finished cooking, Danielle started designing our presentation platter while I did my best to fashion a garnish from the lemon we had with a very dull knife. All of a sudden our cedar plank caught on fire (it hadn’t had long enough to soak in the water), but Danielle calmly moved the plank to the side and we closed the lid, hoping that the smoke would enhance the fish and not overwhelm it.
Danielle arranged the stuffed calamari and shell, remaining cooked whole shrimp, and snapper on a second cedar plank. A couple of Nike swooshes with the chocolate-orange sauce, the beautiful orchid, my decorative lemon, a couple of decorative seashells and a slice of blood orange and we were ready for photography and the judges.
I ran to get my camera and quickly snapped off a bunch of photos. Danielle and I went through them and decided which one we would show to the judges. Then it was time to sit back and wait.
We were team #4 so our food was going to be cold by the time the judges got to it. I reminded them that it would have tasted better if they had gotten it right off the fire – hoping they would take that into consideration in the final judging. Danielle spun a yard about intentionally lighting the cedar plank on fire to add more smoke to the fish, making sure she mentioned how challenging that was due to the TRU-Infrared’s reduced flare-up technology! She is quick on her feet and it was all I could do not to laugh out loud as I stood next to her.
The judges went to another room to discuss the results while all of us returned to our grills to cook grouper filets for our dinner. The hotel supplied all the side dishes and it was a feast fit for kings. It was fascinating to see what everyone did with the same ingredients, creating unique and delicious variations.
Danielle and I were sure we would win on presentation, but given the skills of everyone else, didn’t expect to win the overall prize. We were just happy to have created a beautiful and delicious meal that either of us would have served to family and friends. As we dove into our dinners and sipped copious amounts of wine, we relaxed and enjoyed all the stories of cooking near-disasters that each team had encountered. There was a lot of good-natured kidding because it was a friendly competition, but don’t be fooled, everyone wanted to win.
I am honestly glad I didn’t have to make the decision. Everything I tasted made by the other teams was outstanding. I couldn’t believe everyone came up with their concepts, prepared and presented these dishes in only 22 minutes! I never would have been able to pick a winner.
Finally it was time to announce the winners. In a true show of equality, every team won some aspect of the competition, and each announcement followed by hearty applause and cheers. When they announced the overall winners, Danielle and I screamed with shock and delight when they declared The Diva and The Dame the best team! There is no trophy, but Danielle and I get bragging rights for the next year. I am just thrilled to be on the winning team with Danielle, the true reason we won!!
The real reward is the friendships we made and the experiences we had. Seafood will never taste as good as it did that night, surrounded by my new friends, all exhausted, happy, and smelling of smoke (thanks to the burning cedar). Thank you to the All-Star team for welcoming me so warmly into the family and to the Char-Broil folks for creating such a memorable experience for all of us. I will be talking about this adventure for many years to come!
Don’t forget – you can use the Discount Code C13JB25 for 25% off any Char-Broil grill (such as their amazing TRU-Infrared line, which we cooked on in Florida) you purchase from charbroil.com!
- 3 oz very finely chopped dark chocolate, semisweet or bittersweet
- Juice of 1 small orange, preferably a blood orange or cara cara
- Orange zest, optional
- 1/2 tsp ground ancho chile or Lawry’s seasoned salt
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice, optional
- Vanilla ice cream
- Place the chocolate in a heatproof container and add about half the orange juice. Microwave it for 20 seconds and stir until the chocolate has melted. Add more orange juice if you want a thinner sauce. Sprinkle on the seasonings and whisk until thoroughly combined and smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings.
- Note: you can also do this dessert sauce entire on the grill, just like I did in Florida. But use a spoon, the sauce is hot to the touch!
- Scoop the ice cream into serving bowls and drizzle with a little of the chocolate sauce. Serve immediately.
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