In some cases, the first time is the charm, and that certainly was the case last Saturday at the RoadKill Cook-off where the greenhorns, Who Dat New Gang?, led by Joe Walker, were awarded first place for their cajun infused wild hog and poblano peppers.
The week before the cook-off, Walker himself was cool as a cucumber when he said, “We will leave an impression.”
And they did.
Even during the cook-off, despite the heat in the air – from the sun and the gas grills – Walker was calm, collected and confident.
A little wrench was thrown in the game when judge Dan McMaster was unable to attend, but luckily Dunmore resident and chef Kevin Fraser was in town and filled in at the last minute. Fraser joined Chef Tim and Spike Carlsen, and the trio judged the eight teams on their culinary creations.
Coming in a close second was last year’s winner, the Youth Health Service Hillbillies. The team – Peggy Stull, Angela Lester, Jim Lester and Ethan Stull – stuck with their winning combination of venison and bear.
“We are cooking Granny’s Goulash,” Stull said. “We have our traditional bear bait and Granny’s tonic that everybody loved last year. We brought that back because it compliments goulash just perfectly.”
“We’ve done that the last two years, so we figured we’re going to give it a try again,” Angela added.
The cooks behind the curtain were joined by Brandy Cassell, Lynette Otto and Sarah Begg, who were the servers and promoters of the meal.
Coming in third place – and winning the People’s Choice for the third year in a row – was the PCB [Pendleton Community Bank] Buckbusters. This year, the team had a deer camp theme and team leader Kendall Beverage shared the story that when you don’t do well at getting a buck at deer camp, sometimes you luck into a doe on the side of the road.
The team served up a Side Ditch Doe with Puss Scab Fritters, washed down with a bit of flavored spirits only found in the mountains.
As they were preparing the meal, Beverage continued to throw jabs at his friend and “rival” Joe Walker, who’s booth was conveniently located right next to the Buckbusters.
“We were ready to go, got down here bright and early,” Beverage said. “We had to push Joe out of our way. He was already trying to mess us up.”
Despite the ribbing between the two, when one is in need, the other is ready to help.
“We even let him borrow our lighter,” Beverage said.
Rounding out the awards was the Showmanship plaque, given to the team with the most creative theme and display. This year, that honor went to the New Jersey Gangster Gourmet crew.
A combination of New Jersey and Pocahontas County residents, the team fully embraced its gangster theme with sleek white shirts, black ties and a gangster attitude.
Led by Matty “Mouse” Russo, the team cooked up venison sausage with juniper and rosemary.
“It’s pretty good,” Russo said. “No, it’s great.”
Their food was good, but the story of how they got involved in the cook-off is incredible.
“True story,” Russo said. “A friend of mine got put in the Alderson Federal Penitentiary, so we really are gangsters. Anyway, I stumbled on this lovely little town, and the people were so freaking nice, like crazy nice. I’m being serious, really, these people are lovely here.”
Long story short, Russo, who is filled with ridiculous ideas – his words – decided to see what the high school in the county was like. He and his wife are high school teachers and when he saw that Pocahontas County High School was fundraising on its website, he decided he wanted to help.
“Then I saw the RoadKill [Cook-off] online and I said, ‘no brainer,’” Russo explained. “I said, ‘let’s come down here, see if we can win some money.”
Russo contacted principal Joe Riley, who put Russo in touch with teachers Stephanie Poppe and Erwin Berry and together with a couple of Russo’s friends, they created the cook-off team. Russo said any money the team won in the cook-off would be donated to PCHS.
Giving those four teams a run for their money were four RoadKill veteran teams that brought their own wild game delights to the table.
Returning for a third year in a row was the You Hit ‘Em, We Spit ‘Em team, led by Cher Megasko, of Texas. Joined by her husband and friends from Michigan and Missouri, Megasko celebrated Oktoberfest with her German inspired wild boar and juniper meatballs over Spatzle with sweet paprika cream gravy.
Megasko has won several years and said she loves the atmosphere of the competition and sharing new recipes with the crowd.
“I just love it,” she said. “First of all, this is an awesome place to be. I love West Virginia. We had a little bit of success the first year, so it made me come back the second year and now the third. I hope everybody cooks their very best food and then the best person will win. That’s the way it should be.”
Also returning was Girl Scout Troop 5032, this year called Linda’s Deers. Troop leader Linda Friel explained that the girls chose to interpret a familiar scene in West Virginia in the winter.
“We’re cooking Droppings in the Snow,” Friel said. “You know in the wintertime, when you see deer and they leave their droppings?”
The actual meal was mashed potatoes, corn, deer meat, gravy and cheese. The girls – Cadets, Seniors and Ambassadors – worked together to mix all the ingredients to make a stick-to- your-ribs entry.
Across from the girl scouts were the boy scouts, who used bear as their wild game.
“We are Cub Scout Pack 33 out of Marlinton, West By-God Virginia,” leader Sam Gibson said. “We are doing two dishes; two recipes going here. We’re cooking bear gravel chili to feed to the thousands of people that are coming here today, and we’re also cooking bumper bear tacos for the judges.”
The final entrant, who has been on sabbatical from the competition since 2007, returned this year to enjoy the fun once again.
The Mountain Hospice team, led by Tiffany Debolt, cooked up a Jackalope Jumble over Grubs.
“It’s a rabbit stew,” Debolt said. “We competed in 2007 and have not been back since then. We just had a lot of fun doing it that year, then every year we got too busy to do it, so this year, we put the time aside to compete.”
Debolt explained that having a solemn job with Mountain Hospice, working with the terminally ill, it’s nice for the employees to get to participate in fun projects and the cook-off was right up their alley.
“We like to do things like this to have fun,” she said.
The RoadKill Cook-off and Autumn Harvest Festival attracts thousands of visitors each year from all over the world.
There was a brief heavy downpour in the afternoon, but rain is so desperately needed, no one complained.
Award plaque sponsors for this year’s event were:
First Place – Pendleton Community Bank
Second Place – Snowshoe Mountain
Third Place – Associated Universities, Inc. NRAO/GBO/LBO
Showmanship – First Tracts Real Estate
People’s Choice – Mountaineer Insurance Services, Inc.