Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Surprises in Memphis

I landed in Memphis today for my big week at Memphis in May as a guest chef for Char-Broil. After a quick debriefing of tomorrow's schedule, we headed to Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ for a group dinner and more in depth meeting.

Before I sat down to write this, I realized that two things happened tonight that I didn't expect.

I'll start with the good surprise. Maybe surprise isn't the right word, unexpected is better, but tonight I met an amazing group of people, a group who cares deeply about their product, about their customers, and about my point of view. Little ol' me.

I've been to a lot of useless meetings, and it's one of the reasons I chose to start my own business. That, and the fact that I cannot bear to wear pantyhose.

But this was more than a hand-out of bullet points. I got to sit across from the VP of Marketing and talk about grills from an insider's perspective. The art director talked about his ribs. We all talked about how Char-Broil, almost exclusively a gas grill company, fits with a hardcore barbecue competition like Memphis in May. We talked about what this infrared cooking system really is, and how it differs from conventional gas, or other infrared grills. We even gave them a wish list for future products.

And instead of them telling us the answers, as a group we sat and discussed them, answering them together. I guess I didn't expect such a democratic and thoughtful meeting from such a large corporation.

Sitting next to fellow guest chef Larry "BBQ Grail" Gaian, was a hoot, too. I already "knew" Larry from social networking, from his MOINK balls, and his review of my book. It was great to meet him and his wife face to face, though. You can't hear the passion in a person's voice on twitter like you can when they are sitting next to you. I loved hearing Larry's passionate declarations and opinions about barbecue, the Char-Broil infrared grills (he's a recent convert), and the barbecue world in general.

And the other surprise? The barbecue was not happening.

At all. I have to think this was just an off night for them. Jim Neely's Interstate BBQ has received way too much praise for what came on my plate tonight.

After dinner I talked with one of the restaurant family owners, Kelvin Neely, and he made me laugh my head off. The man is out loud funny. So I'm going to let Larry do the critical review on this one on his blog, and share a little of what Kelvin had to say about getting around in Memphis.

"Memphis is the Bermuda triangle. No GPS works here. When someone says 'north', you ask, 'north which way?' You can drive on I-240 East, West, North and South without making a turn!"

"Customers call me for directions and I ask them, 'Well, where are you?' and they say, 'To be honest, I have no idea,' so I just tell them, 'Keep driving till you hear my voice!"

I love surprises. I love curve balls and last minute upsets. I love it when you go in with one expectation and come out understanding something in a new light. And I'm a sucker for a belly laugh.

I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be full of surprises, and hopefully a few laughs.

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