Every year NASCAR runs the Daytona 500 Race which kicks off the NASCAR racing season. On Saturday, February 13th, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) sponsored the “Beef it’s what’s for Dinner 300” race at Daytona National Speedway the day before the Daytona 500. Three World Master Chefs Society members, Master Chef Patrick Mitchell CEC, AAC, FWMCS, Master Chef Mark Schneider CEC, AAC, WMCS & Master Chef Rick Neal CEC, WMCS and Chef Robert Hale of the Texas Beef Council were asked to cook for the media during these races.
Our task was to feed the media, about 85 meals each day, just before the start of the race. Due to Covid restrictions, we served these meals in individual three-compartment containers which caused some presentation restrictions but we worked through that. We tried to put a bit of a Texas spin on it since we are all from the “Lone Star State” but the real focus was representing the National Association. We served BBQ braised short ribs on Saturday where we took a traditional braise and added some BBQ notes to the rub and the braising liquid.
On Sunday’s race, we served a Carne Asada where we marinated petit tenders (Teres Major), in a blend of tomatillo, onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice, orange juice, oil and S&P. We grilled them, sliced them into strips and served it with tortillas and a fresh salsa verde. We served elote and chayote squash and an incredible kolache Bread pudding. The kolaches were hand-carried by Chef Schneider from a Czech community in the small town of West, here in Texas.
The USAF Thunderbirds were there to do a fly-over before the race. We were supposed to do a demo on stage in the infield and the Thunderbirds were due to come on after us. The Beef Councils thought it would be a good idea if we grilled some extra steaks and presented them to the Thunderbirds after our demo. We ran into the Thunderbirds Saturday morning in the tunnel as we headed into the kitchen. We got a quick picture with them and talked about the steaks.
Due to rain, the demos got “washed out” so to speak on Saturday. Sunday we had another storm come through and cancelled that demo. The PR person for the Thunderbirds came by the kitchen we were working in and said the team was really looking forward to those steaks! I told her that when they come back to watch the race, after the fly-over, we would cook them a steak dinner!
This was truly the highlight of the weekend! We had some long bone tomahawk rib-eye steaks for the demo that we didn’t use and had more rib eyes brought in to feed about 18 members of their team. Since they were all a team, we were able to set it up buffet style and make a bit of a presentation to them. Unfortunately, Chef Rick Neal had to go back on Saturday afternoon so it was just Chef Robert Hale, Chef Mark Schneider & I. We each spoke to the team and explained the menu and what it meant to us to cook for them. I spoke last and shared that I grew up in an Air Force family with a fighter pilot father who flew F-4’s, a plane the Thunderbirds flew at one time. I also spoke of the similarities between the kitchens and the military. In a kitchen, we have an Executive Chef with a brigade system under the chef and that brigade carries all the way through the kitchen. We have a uniform that has history to it and requires respect for that uniform because it instantly says so much about us. At just a glance it shows how clean we work, how organized we are and what our level of commitment is to “attention to detail”. Then their commander (#1 lead pilot) spoke and shared with us how grateful they were that we had taken the time to prepare them a special meal. Even though they are the best of the best elite teams, they were so humble and appreciative.