For the past few years, I’ve had a front-row seat to share Harry’s amazing barbecue adventures that continue to take him to new places and to meet new people. We are both blessed with a joint passion to spread a message of BBQ love and joy in this world.
This story begins with Harry’s surprise invitation to be a guest instructor for the Danish National Barbecue team at the world’s largest Pork Championship at the Memphis in May (MIM) in 2014. At MIM 2014, when Harry was teaching the Danish team how to cook pork ribs at MIM, he met Mikeil Dcosta.
Mikeil is the head of the R&D department at Weber-Stephens, the innovative American institution which brought us the Weber Kettle, Genesis gas grill, electric grills, and the Weber Smokey Mountain which is the lovable pit that many competition cooks in America use, present company included.
After that chance meeting, Harry must have made a strong impression because he received an invite to teach at the Weber-Stephens headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois from Kevin Kolman, Weber top’s Grill Master, the following Monday.
Our schedules are usually pretty booked with teaching, judging, and competing in BBQ contests about 45+ weekends a year. All of that is in addition to our roles as parents and wage earners at regular day jobs. So squeezing in a private, out-of-town class wasn’t easy. As a matter of fact, the only slot we had was our Maui vacation getaway planned for mid-July.
Most partners would have protested. I sighed as I felt my raw Hawaiian Ahi poke over rice dish slipping away. But who gets the opportunity to visit Weber headquarters, never mind share ideas with them on how to cook world-class BBQ? The thought of it made me a little nervous but I wanted to go as Harry was very enthusiastic about heading to Chicago. After all, I’ve been cooking on my trusty Weber Smokey Mountain for 5 years now and I think of them as my babies. They are more vital to my barbecue cooking than anything I owned. Having been an R&D biotech scientist for most of my adult life, I was curious to meet the engineers who enabled so much joy in my life and in the lives of others.
So I offered up our Maui vacation date as the potential Weber class date to Harry. He accepted. Harry cooked and I table-captained a contest at the Santa Rosa Wine Country on Saturday. We drove home, unpacked, cleaned up, packed again and the very next day, jumped on a plane to Chicago for our “work-cation”.
By 2 a.m. on Monday, we arrived in Schaumburg in our rental car from O’Hare. By 9am, we met Kevin Kolman in our hotel lobby, Weber’s grill master and host for the next three days. Kevin has an easy personality so even though we just met him, we felt like we were catching up with an old friend. BBQ tends to do that to people. Kevin wears a black chef jacket that buttons up on the right side and has two small US flags on each side of his stand-up collar. On the right side it says Weber Grill Academy and on the left is his name underneath his title as Grill Master.
Our hotel was conveniently located next to the Weber Grill Academy. As we pulled our luggage full of BBQ supplies across the street, we noticed numerous little Smokey Joe grills underneath large trees in the front lawn. Inside each grill were blooming red begonias. We felt at home as these were clearly our kind of people.
The grill academy houses a 60-person classroom, a fancy Weber product showroom, several meeting rooms, and a full-size commercial kitchen. The drawers and cabinets are accented with custom etched glass panels and aluminum laser cut handles, all with the Weber grill logo. I was immediately in awe. The kitchen was unique in that there were no stoves or ovens. The electric, propane, and charcoal grills and smokers were the only sources of heat provided. We baked, grilled and smoked everything on Webers. An elaborate interior exhaust system enabled us to use Weber grills inside the kitchen. I was certain that if I were tall enough, I could dry my hair underneath one of those, though I didn’t try.
We unpacked our things; went through the checklist and generated a grocery list for the day. The Weber Grill restaurant provided some amazing cuts of meats, starting off with a Snake River Farms gold label brisket. The pork shoulder, the chicken thighs and ribs were all farm raised, locally grown, organically fed, air-dried, grass-fed kind of meat. Even the Ahi tuna which must have come from Hawaii given its blood red signature color and was the largest chunk of tuna we’ve had the pleasure to work with. I got a little bit of my own vacation back at that moment as Harry broke down that yummy fish on Monday night. Any bits and pieces that were left over, were eaten immediately by Kevin, Harry or myself. We dipped the raw pieces of sushi into soy sauce and closed our eyes when the fish melted in our mouths.
After spending the day preparing for the class, Kevin drove us over to the Weber grill restaurant for an after work social