Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Halal BBQ Cook Off and Festival: A Lookback

DISCLAIMER: This was the first time we had done this. If you are reading this and have attended the cook off before, please bear with us. We will definitely make an effort to make next year a more improved experience.

Salam/hey guys! So my masjid (Masjid al Mustafa on 17250 Coventry Park Drive, Houston, Texas() had hosted a BBQ Cook Off and carnival. This was the first time that there was ever a BBQ Cook Off with halal meat. And guess who came up with the rules and was inspired to start the idea? Me! So how did the idea come about?

Well, I was driving down on 290 one day near the I-10 exit, and I saw an advertisement for the BBQ Cook Off that was taking place at the rodeo. I knew that eating any food at the rodeo would be next to impossible because of the wide usage of pork and beer. I have been living in Houston for the past 10 years, and given that Texas is a major barbecue state, it was high time that we had our own halal version of it. Heck, there is even a Kosher chili cook off that occurs yearly too. The main objectives were to make the first one successful, make it a yearly thing, and also learn from past experiences running it. Before I came up with a plan and rule book that is similar to the one at the rodeo.

The rules were simple, but made complicated during the competition. All meat had to be zabiha halal, and that there would be 3 categories: Texan, Desi, and Arab. All halal meats could be used. The gas had to be turned off if leaving otherwise the team would be disqualified. They had to have 5 lb of meat (later changed to at least 5 lb) for the cook off. With communication with the competitors, the rules would change later, mainly because I had not mentioned it earlier. Finally, I picked the judges.
After getting the rules approved, it was time to start planning. We collaborated the carnival with the cook off, meaning that there would be rides and other food as well. We got Gyro King to come along, as well as get things such as a mechanical bull, moonwalk, and rock climbing. It was also time to get the competitors. The sign up rate was going well, with spots filling up. Everything went smoothly until I announced a competitor fee. Because of backlash, I stopped it. I take responsibility for not announcing earlier. Then, people started backing out. I mainly communicated by email, because I did not feel comfortable giving my phone number away to the public. By the end of the deadline, 13 out of 15.
As the time progressed on the day of the event, there were many bumps. Many were not showing up, and they never informed me that they were not going to compete. Some backed out a few HOURS before the competition was about to start (which honestly is disrespectful). One brisket person was setting up already, and the judges arrived. The judges were Hasan Gopalani, a good friend of mine and a BBQ fanatic, and Alison Cook, the food critic of the Houston Chronicle (main newspaper of Houston). At the end, 5 competitors showed up. Gyro King also provided food for the public. The food in the community was also being sold. They had tikka, samosas, burgers, cotton candy, nachos, and sodas for sale.
As judging progressed, the competition brewed up. Along with the brisket, there was mixed grill from team Lebanon with salad, hummus and garlic sauce (I have a lot to talk about this), chicken tikka, tikka teriyaki (interesting combo), naan, and raita from team Bengal Cajun, a skewer of chicken kabab made by Safa Marwah, and bihari kabab, seekh kabab, naan, and vegetables from team Shaaz Grill. The brisket team also made the remaiing brisket into brisket sliders, which I thought was a good idea.

Brisket Sliders

Mix over Rice from Gyro King

Naan and raita from Bengal Cajun

Mix Grill, Hummus, and Garlic sauce from Team Lebanon

Tikka Teriyaki and Chicken Tikka from Team Bengal Cajun

All the judges really liked the dishes, and also had some constructive criticism to give. All three of us liked the brisket. I loved the bihari kabab from Shaaz Grill. Hasan loved Safa's chicken, and Alison loved the chicken dishes from Bengal Cajun. I found the garlic sauce from Team Lebanon to be ok, while Hasan found the texture of their food to be grainy. Overall, a good showing from all the competitors.

So the winner was the brisket after all the judges' scores were calculated. It was neck and neck. Below are the scores.

1) Mohammad Khan: 25/30
2) Team Lebanon: 23.5/30
3) Safa Marwah: 23/30
4) Shaaz Grill: 22.5/30
5) Bengal Cajun: 22/30

Alison and Hasan really enjoyed the food and loved the fact that it happened despite the major bumps we had. I personally felt that it could be better.

Now, there are two things I would like to tell you guys. Firstly, PLEASE understand that this was our first time doing this, so of course mistakes are bound to happen. These sort of things are part of a learning experience. If you expect everything to be perfect at the first time with everyone doing something like this for the first time ever, then I am sorry, you have extremely unrealistic expectations. You need to understand that it takes time for things to be perfect, and that every human makes mistakes. There will never be a perfect person with the exception of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The second thing is directed to the volunteers, organizers, and to the masjid board. The only way we will learn from the mistakes we made is to acknowledge the mistakes we made and rectifying them as a team instead of pointing fingers at people for specific faults or putting the blame on one specific person for screwing up the entire event. If we want to make this successful in the future, teamwork plays a major role. Telling stuff behind peoples' backs or stopping someone in a group from speaking up about something are major ways of making sure that the cook off will never occur again. and it would also lead a person to never want to visit a masjid again.

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