Winning over Kansas: Well done for Diamond Bar barbecue master

Winning over Kansas: Well done for Diamond Bar barbecue master
Maritza Velazquez, Staff Writer
Created: 06/09/2009 09:21:24 PM PDT

DIAMOND BAR – Harry Soo’s barbecue is so good; it makes you want to slap somebody.
The saying is the basis of the Diamond Bar resident’s competition barbecue team name – “Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ.”

“In the South, there’s this saying that if you taste food that was cooked better than your mom cooked, it made you want to slap your momma,” said Soo’s co-worker, Janice Hill, who came up with the team name and encouraged the single father of two to join barbecue competitions.

After being in the competition circuit for a little more than a year, Soo and his teammate, Mark Tung, were named Reserve Grand Champions of the Great American Barbecue Festival May 22-24 in Bonner Springs, Kan.

Thom Emery, past president of the California Barbecue Association, said the Great American Barbecue Festival is one of the five largest competitions in the nation and that no team from California has ever won such a prestigious award.

“When you’re from California, they don’t really take you seriously,” said Soo, who cooks as a hobby. “But I think what happened is we really shook up the national barbecue world when a team from California won second overall.”

To win overall titles, teams must have scored the most points in each individual category – chicken, brisket, pork and ribs. Soo and Tung took home a trophy and $4,000 for their latest win.

Soo, an immigrant from Malaysia, got his first taste of barbecue as a student at Texas Tech in 1983.

It wasn’t only the flavor of the food that he enjoyed so much. It was also its origins.

“Barbecue has such an important historical significance in American culture because of its roots, and it’s the only true and original American food,” said Soo, who moved to Diamond Bar to attend Cal Poly Pomona for his master’s degree in 1986.

Although he often experimented with barbecue and attempted to perfect his recipes, Soo didn’t dive immediately into the competitive world.

“Barbecue is as far as I can get from my daily routine, and it’s really a great way to de-stress and to do something completely different from what I do every day,” he said.

It all started in 2006, when Soo, an IT project manager at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, helped Hill with the annual “A Taste of Soul” fundraiser for the Black Employees Association at their downtown Los Angeles office.

Soo cooked barbecue brisket, which was met with praise.

A year later, a group of his co-workers decided to create a “bucket list” based on the 2007 film starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. On top of a list of their own goals, the group created “stretch goals” for each other, consisting of tasks that would be outside their comfort zone.

For Soo, it was performing stand-up comedy and participating in a barbecue competition. He excelled at both. His group won first place at a company show. Soo, sporting an Afro wig, was the back-up dancer.

At his very first barbecue competition in March 2008, he took Reserve Grand Champion, placing behind Emery, who won Grand Champion at the Palm Desert contest by just four points.

“Harry brings to the sport an inquisitive nature,” said Emery, who hosts several California events every year. “He’s very bright, but he doesn’t have a lot of preconceived notions. He didn’t grow up eating barbecue, so he’s adaptable.”

For the recent Memorial Day weekend barbecue contest, that’s just what Soo did.

“What I learned is that everybody who sampled our product said it’s too spicy,” he said of the Kansas festival. “In California, we have Thai, Vietnamese, we have wasabi, and it’s spicy. We were winning in California. But I realized in Kansas, they like it bland and sweet there. So on Sunday, I toned it down, and lo and behold, we came in second.”

In the open competition, out of 163 teams, “Slap Yo’ Daddy BBQ” came in fourth for the chicken category, 60th for the ribs category, third in the pork category, and 16th in the brisket category. At the end of the competition, Soo had the second highest combined score.

In the invitational contest, for those who have won a sanctioned qualifying contest, Soo came in 25th out of 44 teams.

“What is wonderful about the community of barbecuers is that we’re all united by one common passion,” he said.

Last year, Soo’s team won the “Rookie of the Year” title for the California Barbecue Association. This year, his goal is to win “Team of the Year.”