On Saturday, September 8, my family and I served up nearly 500 samples at the WVU football home-opener as part of the Dollar General Big 12 Championship Tour. Getting to share my passion for cooking with the WVU community was an amazing experience, especially after waiting more than a year for the opportunity to do so.
Opportunity comes knocking
Last year, the World Food Championships put out a call for chefs who might be interested in cooking and serving samples at Big 12 football games across the country for the Dollar General Big 12 Championship Tour. As someone with a passion for WVU sports and tailgating, I knew this was the perfect opportunity for me. I signed up and was soon on-boarded to cook at the WVU vs. Texas game that was set to take place in Morgantown, in late November.
I was so excited and could not wait to finally share my food with people in my area. However, I soon learned that serving food to the public is tricky business. In order to serve food at the event there were multiple permits with strict requirements that had to be approved from the health department, WVU, and IMG (WVU Athletics). There were also a ton of logistics that had to be worked out; where would the food be prepared, how would I transport it, and how would I ensure that it’s kept at a safe temperature?
As a home chef with no access to a professional kitchen or transportation equipment, meeting food safety regulations is extremely difficult. All food items served to the public have to be prepared in a commercial kitchen that is registered with the state and local health departments and there must be adequate hand washing and disposal stations on site, none of which I possess.The whole process was quite overwhelming and showed me that I had a lot to learn about food safety and the work that goes into serving quality, safe food to a large audience.
Ultimately, the event was canceled due to the fact that I was unprepared to handle the strict guidelines required by the health department and because WVU athletics would not allow us to cook on a sponsored grill at the event because of open flame restrictions. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.
Through failure comes success
I decided to turn my disappointment into a learning experience and spent the next few months brushing up on food safety regulations in West Virginia. My new found knowledge came in handy in the spring of 2018, when I got a call from Dollar General once again. They wanted to know if I was once again be interested in participating in the Tour, and this time they would be coming to the WVU football home opener against Youngstown State (no pressure!). My response: I AM SO READY!
Putting what I learned about food regulations in WV to good use, I started the process by visiting my local health department and personally met with the sanitarian who approves all temporary food service vendors and together we came up with solutions to accommodate the fact that I was lacking professional resources.
We determined that I would use a portable hand washing station at our tent, comprised of a paper towel rack, soap, free flowing jug of water, and a bucket to collect the soapy water, and that I would need to find a commercial kitchen to prepare my food in. I took the initiative to reach out to a local church that I knew had a commercial kitchen and asked if they would be willing to rent me their space to prep my food for the event. After going in front of the board and telling them my story they agreed to let me rent their kitchen for a small fee.
It took some work to follow all the rules but with a little creativity and perseverance I was ready to get cooking and share my food!
Following an exhaustive search to find 300 egg rolls wrappers, I took a few people to the church the night before the event to assemble my BBQ pulled pork and mac and cheese egg rolls. By the end of the night I was covered in cheese and BBQ sauce, and thoroughly exhausted, but I felt a great sense of accomplishment knowing that all our hard work would soon be put to good use.
The next day, with 5 coolers in hand, I headed to the stadium with my Mom, Dad, and sister, ready to take on the day.
While it was one of the rainiest game days I have ever experienced and not everything went according to plan, I can say with confidence that the event was a success. My family and I served up our entire supply of egg rolls and received great feedback about the food.
My favorite compliment of the day was being asked several times if my egg rolls would soon be for sale at Dollar General, to which I replied “I can only hope.”
It took a lot of work and required a huge learning curb, but overall participating in the Dollar General Big 12 Championship Tour was a great experience. I can’t wait to see what opportunity will come my way next!
If you’d like to try a version of my BBQ Pulled Pork and Mac & Cheese Egg Rolls for yourself check out my recipe here.