Cooks to battle it out over the fire

Longview: Bar U Ranch hosting annual Chuckwagon Cook-off on June 8

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jun 04, 2014 08:38 am

Sue Silvester stirs up a pot of stew at the Bar U Ranch Chuckwagon Cook-off last year. After winning the event, her team hopes to capture the title again on June 8.
Sue Silvester stirs up a pot of stew at the Bar U Ranch Chuckwagon Cook-off last year. After winning the event, her team hopes to capture the title again on June 8.
Wheel File Photo

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Two cooks who earned the championship title for their mouth-watering stew a year ago are returning to the Bar U Ranch’s chuckwagon cook-off to defend their title this weekend.

Sue Silvester and Kelly Vinnicombe represented the Anchor D Outfitting as they put together a winning beef stew recipe a year ago, and they aim to earn the title again in their second year competing in the Bar U Ranch National Historic Site Chuckwagon Cook-Off on June 8.

Silvester is the officer administrator at Anchor D and Vinnicombe is the former camp cook, who now lives in B.C.

Silvester said the duo will stick to their tried and true ingredients this weekend, but refused to give any hints as to what made their delicious stew a winner.

“We did have a secret ingredient, but I can’t tell you want it is,” she said.

It might be hard for some to believe not everyone was confident in the two cooks. Some might even call it a fluke that they won.

“We had a couple of practice stews that were bloody awful,” admitted Silvester. “Our crew didn’t believe it when they heard we won.”

The duo initially planned to serve something funky and unusual, but decided last minute to stick to tradition, she said.

Donned in western wear, the pair got their ingredients bubbling while taking part in some friendly competition at the roundup camp as each team aimed to perfect their concoctions.

“Everybody was laughing and joking,” Silvester said. “We were next to the chefs from the Stampede and we had a little bit of back and forth. It was a blast.”

Mike McLean, Bar U Ranch acting site manager, is curious to see if Silvester and Vinnicombe can hold on to their championship title.

He said they’re up against teams consisting of Friends of the Bar U Ranch, chefs at the Bar U and Parks Canada employees from Waterton Lakes National Park.

McLean expects eight to 10 teams will compete in their classic old-fashioned event.

The competition was developed to bring to life the age-old tradition of ranchers cooking beef stew and biscuits on an open fire as they moved cattle across endless fields for days.

McLean said there were often one or more guys responsible for feeding the workers during their long treks and they would just pull up in the middle of nowhere to create a delicious meal for the exhausted and ravenous workers.

“You had to have a food guy in charge of getting the grub for everyone,” McLean said. “Imagine in those days of horses hauling everything with you, getting a campsite set up, a fire, getting something to cook and making sure the three meals a day were there for all your hungry hands. That was a real challenge.”

Those taking on the challenge this weekend have many advantages over the ranchers from decades ago. For instance, the competitors arrive on site with their ingredients packed safely in their vehicles, they likely haven’t worked long hours earlier that day rounding up cattle and probably slept in a comfortable bed the night before rather than under the stars exposed to buzzing mosquitoes and chilling weather.

“The interesting thing about the chuckwagon cook-off is the thrill of the race without the dust,” said McLean.

When the fires are lit at 11 a.m. the competition officially begins.

Judging takes place at 3 p.m. and the public is invited to taste the various stews and select their favourite for the people’s choice award.

“They’re looking for a real nice hearty beef stew,” said McLean, of the judges. “From there it’s up to the chefs to see how they can entice the judges to make that vote.”

Entertainment will include trick roper and comedian Bud Edgar, of Calgary, and a variety of local musicians including Claresholm rancher and singer Charlie Ewing.

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