Meat and Greet

The unexpected highlight of our weekend was an invitation to judge the 7th Annual Rib Roast BBQ competition, presented by the Outlaw BBQ Association. Friday’s wet weather and plunging temperatures may have dampened some of the enthusiasm and produced a few cancellations, but the main competition commenced on Saturday, as planned, and we found ourselves among the “taste judges.”

We judged 19 racks of pork spare ribs that had been smoked and sauced in every way imaginable (pro tip: don’t use curry), and, as Jon lapsed into his food coma, Cliff remained on the panel to judge another 19 briskets. Needless to say, we did NOT have supper on Saturday night.

You may be wondering what qualified us to judge competitive barbecue. As it turns out, the Outlaw BBQ Association prefers its judges to be “average folks from the streets,” which, the organization says, is what makes it “so rewarding to win.”

Not only did we participate in judging the winning entries, we also brought mountains of meat back to Cloud 9 for “repurposing” as leftovers.

But first, we napped.

Immobilized by meat, we decided to just chill in front of the TV for the remains of the day. What else can you do when temperatures dip near freezing?

We ended our Saturday by watching three episodes of Dan Levy’s new cooking competition, “The Big Brunch.”

The show features 10 chefs competing in two challenges per episode—challenges which approach brunch from different angles, sometimes deconstructing it (asking the chefs to make a single component) and sometimes creating dishes inspired by a theme. Spoiler: We’ve got our money on J or Daniel.

One chef is eliminated in each episode, of course, and all of it leads up to a generous, final prize of $300,000.

Judging alongside Levy are restaurateur Will Guidara and chef Sohla El-Waylly. They brunch together, cozying up in a big, curved booth, and chatting with bartender Xia Rashid about what they’d like to order (can’t wait to try the espresso martini!). Their conversation and banter seems to just capture what they’d be saying if they were actually at brunch.

The series reminded us of “Chef’s Table,” the documentary-style celebration of food and the chefs who make it that was an instant hit on Netflix when it premiered seven years ago. Like “Chef’s Table,” “The Big Brunch” layers together artful, heartfelt biographies that introduce the chefs along with an indulgent “food porn” type of slow-motion photography that makes you want to give your television a big bear hug just before you devour it.

We found the first three episodes (three more will be released this coming Thursday and two more on Thanksgiving Day) to be surprisingly sedate—much like brunch—with a blessedly restrained use of interview segments. And Levy makes a great host and judge. He’s warm, engaging, funny, vulnerable—someone you’d actually enjoy brunching with. As he wanders through the kitchen, he displays all the supportiveness of Tim Gunn, but at the judge’s table, he channels Padma Lakshmi. This isn’t a raucous, drunken brunch, but one in which you could imagine yourself indulging for hours while connecting with close friends.