by Ross Bowen, Tastemaker in Residence
Food brings people together. Start a fire, add meat, and invite your neighbors. They’ll come.
As well as being a competition BBQ chef, I am also the Vice President of the Minnesota BBQ Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of the art of outdoor cooking. The Society does this by sponsoring and promoting various events and contests throughout our communities highlighting our passion for great BBQ and by fostering interest in both members and nonmembers through educational opportunities and activities. Our members are at all levels of involvement in the art: Casual backyard chef to competition cooks and professionals, all sharing the same passion.
One of our charitable ventures occurred this summer, when food was used to bring together public safety officers and the people they serve at the second annual “Battle of the Badges” at North Commons Park in North Minneapolis. While the police, fire, and park police departments competed in a rib throwdown judged by the public, the Minnesota BBQ Society cooked and served free pulled pork sandwiches, hot dogs, fixin’s and drinks.
The three uniformed departments were each led by a member of the Minneapolis BBQ Society. Randy Appelgren, Chairman of the Board, cooked with the Fire Department and team captain Fireman Robert Sayers. Board Member Don Bickford guided the Police Department and Sgt. Jesse Garcia. Member Steve Bennett, owner of local spice business Dipstix, cooked with the Park Police and team leader Officer James Cannon.
All the public was welcome, and people streamed by the food service area at a steady pace for over four hours. An estimate put the meals served at over 4,000. Cub Foods deserve thanks for donating the meat as well as the side dishes and drinks.
Minnesota BBQ Society members contributed mightily. Overnight, members Don Bickford, Randy Appelgren, Tim Melchior, John Scharffbillig and myself smoked half a ton (!) of pork. At the event itself John and Nora Gallagher managed a team of volunteers serving the public. Jim and Tom Mitchell, Jim Woodkey, Chuck Harding, Tim Melchior, Liliana Rancone and me grilled hot dogs one hundred a time throughout the afternoon.
There was entertainment for all ages, on the stage and throughout the park. While older children ascended the climbing wall, smaller children played in the bouncy castle. A clown entertained most kids while frightening only a few. Grammy-award winning Sounds of Blackness headlined a stream of local musical talent who took to the stage and kept the crowd swaying all afternoon.
Fifty local residents were chosen from the crowd to judge the Battle. Firefighter Sayers selected these judges from different families, small groups, and gatherings of people. All too often, Sayers says, people who live on different blocks or are of different ethnicity never meet. This event was not only able to mingle the community and their civic servants, but also members of the community who don’t normally associate with each other.
At the three o’clock turn-in, each judge received three bones. They carefully evaluated and enjoyed each one, then voted on the best rib. Pit area gossip gave an early edge to Steve Bennett’s Team Park Police, but in the end Team Police was selected. Captained by Sgt. Jesse Garcia, this was the second year in a row that the department and Don Bickford took home the coveted Battle of the Badges trophy!
Everyone felt the event was a success. Society members were given a service opportunity that involved their hobby of putting meat on fire. Fireman Sayers summed it up the best. “We brought together North Minneapolis residents and public servants at a friendly and peaceful event. We made connections that will help us do our jobs better and keep the neighborhood safer. And we built stronger ties within the community itself.”