The roads were packed and critters cowered in the bushes Saturday as aromas from the 2018 RoadKill Cook-off filled the air above the First Avenue Mini-Park in Marlinton.
Nine teams from all over the country converged on Marlinton and created dishes featuring venison, bear and alligator to please the palates of thousands of visitors and, more importantly, the three judges of the event.
The first place winners, Youth Health Services [YHS] Hillbillies won over the judges with their Predator/Prey Chili, which contained both bear and venison.
“This is our second year competing,” team leader Angela Lester said.
Along with the main chili dish, the group also had fixins to round out the meal.
“We have bear bait and deer poop, and sweet tea,” Lester said. “The bear bait is a mini corn muffin. The deer poop is trail mix. It kind of goes with the theme.”
Taking second place was the team named You Hit ‘Em, We Spit ‘Em. Hailing from four states, the team included husband and wife Greg Todd and Sharon Megasko, from Texas, who had competed before and learned from their error of working alone.
“In 2016, we participated, but it was just my husband and me,” she said. “We worked too hard, so we had to recruit more people.”
The Texas couple was joined by Leann Woody, of Missouri; and Allison Callazo and Michael Pruett, of Virginia. Together they created Hillbilly Mardi Gras Alligator and Turtle Gumbo.
Todd livened up the recipe with his story of how he killed the alligator, which of course, is absolutely true.
“I just told them the story last night,” he said. “I had the knife in my mouth, because I had to jump in and grapple. I was painted dark because you want to go in at night. He was at least twelve feet…”
Rounding out the top three, and also taking the People’s Choice Award was Marlinton’s own Pendleton Community Bank Buckbusters.
In just their second year of competing, the team has garnered a reputation for their great food, matched only by their ego.
Team leader Kendall Beverage began a lighthearted rivalry with Ed Blackford, team leader of the Coal Hollow Brothers.
While focused on the competition as a whole, Beverage did take the time to put in a few jabs against the Brothers, who have competed in the cook-off since its inception.
“They had to have this special space over there on the side, which is fine, they need all the room they can get,” Beverage joked. “We obviously want to go against the Coal Hollow Brothers really hard, but looking around, it looks like competition is up this year. Everybody’s really brought their A-game.”
The Buckbusters won over the judges and the crowd with their stomach churner, Fender Friend Fawn Smothered in Vulture Vomit.
“The vulture vomit, it’s a reduction of apples, jale-penos and onions,” Beverage said. “It’s a little spicier and the meat is a little sweeter, so hopefully they’ll balance out real well. It is also served with some deep fried deer hide.”
Across the way from the Buckbusters were the swashbuckling Coal Hollow Brothers, who came to pillage the win with their pirate themed Solomon A Gundy dish, which helped them win the Showmanship Award.
“It’s a pirate stew,” Blackford said. “Our main dish is venison, and then we have some alligator. It’s correct for the area that we’re working in and raiding.”
When Blackford was asked if he wrestled the alligator like one of the competitors, he switched to his pirate persona and said, “No, we stole his. He doesn’t know it yet. We’re that good.”
As for Beverage and the other Buckbusters, Blackford said while he would be busy cooking, he would find the time to sneak in a glare or two in their direction.
Blackford also painted a few hidden jabs into the team’s display of a pirate ship. The ship’s name was Cazadores de Cievos, which stands for deer killers or Buckbusters.
“Kendall is represented by that feller right there,” Blackford said, pointing out a man with a white flag. “He’s there, and his crew is all jumping in the water. This is one of those paintings where you’ve got to keep looking into it.”
The painting was complete with a Jolly Roger-style flag with a vulture skull and crossbones.
“I took that from our 2017 first place win plaque,” Blackford yelled for all to hear.
The five other teams may not have walked away with a win, but they did enjoy their time in the competition and shared their creative takes on the roadkill theme.
Marilyn Warren, of Virginia, and Lisa Kleraman, of California, cooked up Drunken Deer in the Headlights; Wilma Workman, of Droop, and Ruth Stanaford, of Maryland, made Mountain Mama Venison Stew; Linda Friel and her Girl Scout Troop – Kirsten Friel, Delania Luikart, Joannie Barlow, Shaylee Landis, Elizabeth Friel, Taylor Hoke and Rachel Felton – made venison and cabbage stew; Shawn Smith had an Autumn Venison served with either lentils with fennel seeds, carrots and onions or cabbage with spinach and garbanzo beans; and Damian Spencer made a Brandied Bambi with a Smashed Potato and Corncake.
It’s a wild time and an entertaining event, but what keeps the competitors coming back? Shawn Smith, who has four years of roadkill under her belt, explained it rather well:
“It’s nerve wracking to get started,” she said, “but I really enjoy it. I just love it. I love to cook.”
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org