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A Chefs' Tailgate

When four chefs and a food writer get together to tailgate, the whole parking lot wants to party.

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On any given autumn Sunday at 11 A.M., outside football stadiums across America, you will find families and friends--some just out of church, some just back from a deer hunt--unloading cars and pick-up trucks freighted with sausages, steaks, smoked briskets, pulled pork, jalapeño relish, fresh-caught catfish and a thousand variations on chili. They are gathered for the greatest mass dining event in America: National Football League tailgating.

As I found when traveling the country with the legendary NFL commentator John Madden, football fans bring the same enthusiasm to tailgates that they do to kickoffs. Among the cooks that Madden and I met were plumbers, housewives, teachers and retired army sergeants who had so much natural talent that they instantly stood out from their parking-lot peers. We met folks who cooked on the hood of an old car they'd towed to the stadium--they'd removed the motor and transformed the engine compartment into a king-size Weber Kettle--and we discovered one group of fans who'd converted the drum of a washing machine into a grill. 

Most people, it seems, share a single opinion about tailgating: they like it. And that includes some of the best cooks I know. When I decided to arrange a tailgate with some top New York City chefs, it took only about 20 minutes to put together a team: Charlie Palmer of Aureole, Michael Lomonaco of Windows on the World, Tom Valenti of Butterfield 81 and Alan Harding of Patois. 

Our tailgate, like all tailgates, turned into a pull-out-all-the-stops party. Maybe somewhere in America someone has figured out a way to have more fun at mealtime, but after logging 20,000 miles on the road last season, I never found anything like it. 

These recipes taste just as good at home as they do in a football stadium's parking lot. 

PETER KAMINSKY is the co-author, with John Madden, of John Madden's Ultimate Tailgating (Viking).

Published November 1998
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