What do you do by day? What do you do by night?
By day, I’m a Chartered Accountant working for a UK financial services company in New York. I moved with the company from London to New York with my wife; we were only meant to stay for three years, but over 10 years later we’re still here really enjoying life in the U.S.
By night, I’m involved with the Kansas City Barbeque Society as a Master Judge judging BBQ contests around the country and world. I’m also a huge U.S. sports fan so I try to follow my football and baseball teams.
Where do you hail from? How did you end up in the States?
I’m originally from Dundee, Scotland. I attended university in Stirling where I played American football and developed my love of the game. I was also involved with the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe, which encouraged me to travel to the U.S. and experience the sport first-hand. When I was offered a secondment to the New York office I couldn’t refuse the chance to experience life in the U.S. Since then, we’ve been fortunate to settle here and visit all fifty states.
Everyone has a Virgin Atlantic moment. What’s yours?
Oh yes, I’m afraid I do. When I began my secondment to the States, I was fortunate to experience travelling Upper Class for the first time. Being a novice I didn’t want to do anything to stand out, but was very keen to enjoy one of the many perks available - a drink at the Upper Class bar. After everyone had left the bar, I summoned the courage to take a seat. Unfortunately what I hadn’t accounted for was the toll from the family party the night before, the exhaustion and emotions of leaving home. I sat there with my drink, managed to doze off, and subsequently falloff my bar stool straight onto the floor. With an almighty crash I woke up, along with quite a few passengers and very concerned cabin crew rushing to my aid. I snuck in utter embarrassment back to my seat. The worst was that I badly damaged my hand so I started my first day in New York unable to hold a pen. Not a great start to my new role, but a good lesson in Upper Class bar etiquette!
For people traveling to the UK, what’s a must do or see?
I’m obviously biased on this one, but recommend anyone to visit Scotland. Edinburgh is a wonderful city with all its unique charm and history. There are so many sights including the Castle, the Queen’s residence at Holyrood Palace and The Royal Yacht Britannia. Edinburgh is now so easy to visit with Virgin Atlantic Little Red flying direct from London Heathrow. Further afield Scotland has some amazing towns and countryside to visit, from Glasgow on the west coast, Inverness and Loch Ness to the north and, of course, the historic and picturesque town of St Andrews, the home of golf, on the east coast. Scotland can easily be toured in a few well planned days either by car or an organized tour. There are always the many whisky distilleries to enjoy as well. Now that I’ve been away from home, I really appreciate why it is referred to as “Bonnie Scotland”.
An International BBQ judge? How did that happen, and what are the qualifications?
Very much by accident! As part of our travels across the U.S., my wife and I loved visiting some amazing local eateries seen on U.S. food channels, including BBQ restaurants. I was intrigued by an episode of the TV show BBQ Pitmasters, which gave insight into the competition BBQ circuit. I contacted the Kansas City Barbeque Society (KCBS), which sanctions over 400 contests across the country each year and train their own certified judges. I completed my training in 2010 and have since been judging locally, nationally and internationally. After completing 30 judging assignments, cooking with a competition team at a BBQ contest and passing a qualifying exam, I became the first non U.S. Master Judge last year.
What’s your standout moment as an International BBQ judge?
The growth of the low and slow style of BBQ internationally. We now have officially sanctioned contests in Canada, the Caribbean and Europe. We’re working on establishing events in South Africa, Japan and Australia. I judged the first sanctioned European contest held in Amsterdam in 2012, and we had our first contest in England last year. We now have our first sanctioned contests in Belgium and Germany, and are looking to add Sweden, Ireland and Italy before 2015. I’ve been lucky to fly over (with Virgin Atlantic!) for several European events. It’s fantastic to see how competition BBQ is taking hold internationally. I’m still hoping we can have our own contest back home in Scotland, although BBQ haggis is a whole new challenge!
My personal standout moment was being invited to judge the Jack Daniels World Championship or “The Jack” — the Super Bowl of the BBQ season, and an invitational only contest for competing teams and judges. Last year marked the 25th anniversary of The Jack, and as part of the celebrations they invited all previous world champions back to compete in a special winners-only contest. I was selected as one of 24 judges. As the sole international representative it was an incredible privilege, although I think the locals down in Tennessee were a little surprised to see one of the judges in a kilt!
We have to ask; where is the best place for BBQ in the US, UK or otherwise?
That is the hardest question to ask a BBQ judge as we are so spoilt with outstanding BBQ. There are so many different styles of BBQ across the US that it is so difficult to isolate one specific area as being the best. BBQ enthusiasts generally refer to four main regional “styles” of BBQ:
Memphis style being primarily pork ribs done either “wet” with sauce or “dry” just seasoned with rub.
Carolina’s style being very much pork based with vinegar based sauces being very prevalent in the East of the region.
Kansas City style where tomato or molasses based sauces are a key feature over smoked meats.
Texas style where beef brisket is the main event and in certain parts of the State mixing the product with BBQ sauce is very much frowned upon.
However, all over the US there are other regional varieties. The best way to find the most amazing BBQ is to hit the road and discover what’s out there. There is nothing better than travelling the country and stumbling across incredible eateries. Whether these are more famous names featured on the food and travel networks or small neighborhood joints which the locals will tell you not to pass up (they often serve up some outstanding ‘que).
While the traditional “low and slow” BBQ pit restaurant is a relatively new phenomenon outside of the U.S., I know that in the UK and across Europe there has been a real growth in this type of BBQ over the last few years. Coupled with the expansion of the competition circuit on the other side of the Atlantic it has been really exciting to see the spread of traditional BBQ internationally.