QFest 2014

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A little history about Q-Fest and California BBQ Associations

By Donna Fong

Q-Fest first started on October 1998 conceived and structured by Steve Clark. Three months after that, the So.Cal BBQ Assoc. had been formed and the president was Dan Cannon of Coyote Road Kill. Yeah, that was his team name. There were two vice presidents (Kathy Murphy & Gene Goycochea), an editor (Tom Brohamer) and a treasurer/secretary (Melanie Jones). Though in its infancy, the SCBBQA was an organization that sent out regular paper newsletters, organized several SoCal contests and had QFests every two months. QFests were like mini BBQ conventions with seminars and cooking classes. Pitmasters came from as far as Texas and Missouri. There was no such thing as Team of the Year yet since the number of contests that year was four. The next year, it grew to seven. ToY wasn’t started until the end of 2000 by a five-page proposal from Don Grissom of Dueling Bubbas. At some point, I must have asked Dan Cannon about the history of California BBQ. He lent me his only paper copies of the collective BBQ newsletters from the two California organizations (CBBQA & SCBBQA, April 1999 to May 2002). In them are a treasure trove of history and images. Together with photo archives on Dan’s website, BBQbyDan.com, I learned about the history of Q-Fest and the two BBQ associations in California.

I was delighted to see a record of competitive California BBQ. There are old photos of Gary Tackett (Tackett’s Portable Cajun), Frank Boyer (Sweet Time BBQ), Eva and Hayward Harris (Rare Breed), and Todd Eaves and Gene Goycochea (Out of This World BBQ), back when they were competing. Garry Howard from The Smoke Ring helped develop the webpage. Through the years, the roles of each member have changed. Gene is a KCBS rep and has served on the KCBS board. Todd owned a BBQ restaurant but sold it. I see Todd mostly at QFests though he has cooked Vista on occasion. I have to travel to the American Royal or the Jack to see Frank photographing teams. Eva and Hayward still cook competitively but are known as The Rib Doctor and have their line of award winning sauces. Gary Tackett stopped cooking with his buddy Elvin Jiles a couple of years ago as West’s Best BBQ and now they mostly judge. Garry Howard now lives in California and took RGC at Silicon Valley last year.

The SCBBQA association had meetings on the 3rd Saturday of each month in locations like the Old Country Buffet in Montclair and the Black Angus in Burbank. Election ballots were printed in the back of the newsletters and handed in person during the November QFest. Members would tear out a page from the newsletter, check off candidates they liked and handed in the piece of paper. By the end of QFest, the new leadership was announced. It was that simple. For the CBBQA, ballots were also printed in newsletters and submitted president, Frank Boyer by October. Nobody ran for office in 1999. You just wrote in a name for President, VP North and VP South. Jim Mehl was the northern VP. Kathy Murphy was the southern VP and coincidentally VP for both organizations. The CBBQA had monthly meetings in San Mateo on the 1st Tuesday of every month. It blows my mind that the organization was small enough back then that it was reasonable to expect that many members could drive to San Mateo. There must have been no traffic back then. Frank had an event called the CBBQA Social/Potluck/Picnic at his home in Los Gatos. Ric (Muzzy) Gilbert taught BBQ classes in San Jose. The first KCBS cook-off north of LA was in Niles on Sept 11, 1999.

From what I can gather, the CBBQA was formed first and the SCBBQA formed afterwards. The SCBBQA lasted for about a year and a half (July 1999-December 2001) before collapsing back into a unified CBBQA. It isn’t easy to access, but it looked like California BBQ had more than its fair share of growing pains. By comparison, our present day organization looks like a well oiled machine believe it or not.

The early Q-Fests offered an opportunity for members to get together multiple times a year because there were fewer contests. Q-Fest activities included sausage and tamale making classes from Dan, a whole hog class by John Burke, a class about knife sharpening from Dr. Don, and Gary Vineyard a gave a seminar on how to start your own catering business. Gary Maines brought his 2.5 ton Klose to Q-Fest and got it stuck in the mud. Bill Wight taught a class on making salsa. Guido Meindl explained how to create and sell your own sauces and rubs.

Many of the activities were instructed by people that I have never heard of in the CBBQA community. Granted, most of my BBQ friends were judges or competitors, but still, where did these people go? It was by lucky chance that one of the people who was a KCBS representative, contest organizer and SCBBQA founder showed up this year, Melanie Jones. Dan Cannon knew I had been reading the newsletters but I'm not sure he knew I was personally very curious about Melanie because she use to write contest review articles, way before I ever knew competition BBQ existed. I had a predecessor. Actually, I have at least two (Kathleen McIntosh, current editor of the Smokin' Times).

When Dan saw Melanie at QFest this year, he introduced me. He said he hadn't seen her in many years. I was so pleased to meet her. I love meeting women in BBQ. We are a spunky group and Melanie fit the profile to a T. She's petite but her aura radiates brightly. Melanie is sharp, articulate and confident. She struck me as a person who didn't waste a whole lot of time complaining. She just did things. I like that. She said the first BBQ contest in California was held in 1996. She remembers because it was the year after her son was born, who was also at QFest this year. As with most BBQ founders here, she talked about how Carolyn Wells helped start the association in California. Melanie explained that her family owned Follows Camp, which hosted several BBQ contests throughout the year. There was often live music. Eddie Money played at one of her contests. Barbecues Galore was a frequent sponsor. Melanie’s life eventually took her up to Seattle and she met even more BBQ people. Now she’s back here in California.

I enjoy talking to living history books because it gives me a perspective on our status today. Our past gives you context and the ability to appreciate where you are because of what others have done. There are definitely aspects of Q-Fest which I think would enhance our experience at Lake Puddingstone. The seminars sound like something we should try harder to keep going. I know last year Dale Ginos taught a class on how to cook beef clod. It would be nice to have an actual CBBQA “meeting” since most of us live so far away from each other. A meeting to address real issues that we aren’t afraid to tackle. But we did do a few things right too. The webcam was a nice addition to the awards ceremony for those who couldn’t travel. I liked the acrylic trophies. The group photo of the ToY winners from each year makes me say, “Wow!”

Today, the CBBQA captures a culturally diverse and geographically dispersed group of over 300 members. If I learned anything from reading all of our old newsletters, it would be that in order for us to succeed, we must be able to reflect on your strengths, understand what didn’t work in the past, anticipate what our future holds and use every resource we have to get there.

Many thanks go out to Dan Cannon who keeps Q-Fest going year after year. I’m looking forward to doing it again next February.

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