As members of the 10 teams that competed in Sunday’s Dutch oven cook-off in Colusa gathered around organizer Gene McKasson to hear the results from the judges, a voice from the crowd spoke up:
“Here’s to Kirk.”
Ball-caps were lifted toward the sky, synchronized in a collective gesture, as dozens of cooks paid a silent tribute to the man after whom the contest was named. Though that man may be gone, this weekend’s Dutch oven cook-off was infused with memories of Kirk Kelleher – and that’s just the flavor that McKasson and co-organizer Nikki Hancock were going for.
A total of 10 teams turned out to cook in the inaugural Kirk Kelleher Memorial Dutch Oven Cook-off, which included a mixture of locals and longtime Western Days competitors, as well as out-of-towners and new faces.
“Every table I’ve gone by, they’re talking about Kirk, and that’s what we wanted,” Hancock said while the results were being tallied. “It’s been a fitting tribute – even the people who didn’t know him were asking about him.”
Around 85 people came out to Rocco’s on the River to sample the cooking, and a dozen local figures signed on as judges. For a first-year event that Hancock and McKasson only had three weeks to prepare for, both said the turnout was amazing.
For the judges and patrons who ponied up $20 to sample the different dishes, the spread of food was pretty amazing, too.
Among the judges was Josh Hill – who filled Kelleher’s seat on the Colusa City Council after Kelleher’s passing in January. Hill said he was careful not to fill up on the dishes he judged, because he wanted to go back for seconds on the items he liked best.
“I made sure to save some room to go back and taste the stuff I really liked,” Hill said.
Hill, who judged the breads, said he was particularly fond of the yeast rolls he judged, which he said received the highest score from him. Those were whipped up by Theron Hopkins, a first time competitor, who wound up taking first in the bread category.
The judges were also very fond of Rolling Stone Catering’s first-place winning side dish – a brussel sprout kebab with bacon and onion, topped with a homemade jalapeño sauce and cilantro. It was the first year competing in a Dutch oven cook off in Colusa for that outfit as well, and they found out about the contest serendipitously. The company was out at the Arbuckle Golf Course selling pizza for at the Omega Nu golf tournament fundraiser on Saturday, and after the event was called off early due to rain, they popped into Rocco’s Bar & Grill on the way back to Yuba City for a drink and a bite to eat. That’s where they heard about the cook-off, and they figured they’d come out to give it a try.
“We came out here on a whim and just killed it,” said team member Skip King.
While the newcomers fared well, the biggest winners were local Dutch oven cook-off veterans. The Sankey Holeman team took first place in dessert – thanks to a delectable carrot cake prepared by Alyssa Rolen – and first in the People’s Choice. Team Lick it Up, composed of Tom Indrieri and Jimmy Miller, took first place in main dish with their green chili and rice pilaf.
Hancock and McKasson said that they hope that Sunday’s cook-off was the first of many to come, and they had a running list of comments and suggestions to implement for next year. But last weekend was a great start, and a touching tribute to Kelleher – McKasson’s good friend and cooking partner.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” McKasson said.■
Main Dish: 1st – Lick it Up (Tom Indrieri and Jimmy Miller); 2nd – Valley Service and Supply (Troy Oliver and Adam McKasson)
Side Dish: 1st – Rolling Stone Catering (Jim King); 2nd – Gamers (Chad Nall)
Bread: 1st – Team Hopkins (Theron Hopkins and Charm Simlick); 2nd – Sankey Holeman (Paul Sankey)
Dessert: 1st – Sankey Holeman; 2nd: Ballers
Overall Points: 1st – Gamers; 2nd – Sankey Holeman
Peoples’ Choice: Sankey Holeman