Bigger Steak Cook-Off This Year Only the Beginning
Published on Tuesday, 17 January 2012 17:09
Many people who come to Ave Maria have a vision for what the town might become. Part of Tom Smith's vision involves steak. Thousands of steaks, to be exact, cooked by grill teams sending plumes of charcoal smoke into the sky over the town center, competing to cook what would be judged as the best steak in Florida.
Mr. Smith, a biology professor at Ave Maria University, began implementing his vision last year when he organized the first Sunshine State Steak Cook-Off, held in the town center at the close of the town's Family Fun Festival. Shrugging off a few skeptics, he attracted eight grill teams that served up 400 steak dinners to residents and visitors. Right, Mr. Smith selling steak cook-off tickets outside the Ave Maria oratory.
This year, Mr. Smith says that at least 16 grill teams are signed up and he expects between 800 and 1,000 steaks will be served. He hopes the event will eventually draw competitors from across Florida and beyond, and the geographic representation is expanding this year. In addition to several local entries, grill teams are coming from Naples, St. Petersburg, Miami, Immokalee and the Chicago Fire Major League Soccer Club, which will be training in Ave Maria.
His inspiration was the World Championship Steak Cook-Off held each spring in Magnolia, Arkansas, where Mr. Smith taught at Southern Arkansas University before moving with his family to Ave Maria.
"That event is now in its 23rd year," he said, "and it not only brings people to the community but also generates enough revenue to pay for big-name entertainment that now is a part of the event."
"When it started they grilled just a few hundred steaks but now they sell 5,000, cooked by 65 grill teams that come from as far away as Canada."
Now in its second year, Mr. Smith said the Sunshine State Steak Cook-Off is one of six such events in the U.S., and he believes it already is the largest event of its kind east of the Mississippi River. Left, smoke rises over the grills at last year's steak cook-off.
The steak cook-off is part of a day of family-oriented activities put on by the Rhodora Donahue Academy to raise money to support scholarships that enable children from Immokalee to attend the K-12 private school.
The Family Fun Festival begins at 11 a.m., featuring a number of games and activities such as inflatables, live music, dance performances, paintball and always-popular demonstrations by the bomb squad, K-9 unit and SWAT team of the Collier County Sheriff's Office. Right, observers hold their ears at the bomb squad demonstration last year showing how a robot can blow up a suspicious item.
Grills get fired up late in the afternoon, with dinner served between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. The meal includes a 16-ounce boneless rib-eye steak, baked potato, salad, roll and drink for $15 and organizers advise purchasing tickets in advance. They're sold at the Ave Maria bookstore in the town center or over the phone by calling 239-304-7032.
Grill teams are competing for a $1,000 top prize if their steak is declared the best by a panel of celebrity judges which this year includes FOX4 morning host Carley Wegner, Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta and a representative from the World Championship Steak Cook-Off in Magnolia, Akansas.