The word “roadkill” probably congers up a vivid image in your mind, but I’m guessing it’s not “dinner.” Not unless you happen to live in West Virginia and are familiar with the world famous West Virginia Roadkill Cookoff, that is. Being an adventurous eater and wanna be chef myself, this eccentric cooking competition had been on my radar for some time. Finally, last September, I bit the bullet and threw my hat into the ring. Here’s how I won third place in the 2016 West Virginia Roadkill Cookoff.
Choosing My Protein for the Roadkill Cookoff
The first decision I had to make was what to cook. It may sound simple, but I struggled with it for a few weeks. I knew I wanted something the audience had probably never tasted before, but for this crowd that was a tall order. I did some research on previous years and knew that rabbit, squirrel, opossum, beaver and even bear were yesterday’s news. I found a distributor of specialty meats in California and finally settled on iguana.
Deciding on My Dish for the Roadkill Cookoff
With the protein decision out of the way the next decision was easy – what dish do I make? In keeping with the rationality of iguana I knew it had to be southwestern. Tacos first came to mind, but they had been done to death in this competition. I decided to do a tostada, but call it a nacho. With a little help from my friends, I decided my slogan would be “I wanna iguana nachos.”
Practice Makes Perfect, Even for the Roadkill Cookoff
I started to work right away getting my table décor together and working on my event signage. I also ordered one pound of iguana meat so I could work on my recipe and make sure the cooking process made sense. We didn’t have access to electricity and weren’t allowed to use generators. So all our cooking had to be done burning wood, charcoal or propane. And just for clarification, contest rules state at least 25 percent of your protein had to be your “roadkill” meat. I used 25 percent iguana and 75 percent chicken thighs. (To do 100 percent roadkill meat would be far too expensive, since we had to prepare enough food for 2000 people.)
Roadkill Cookoff Competition Frenzy
Greg and I took our camper up to the Marlinton area the day before the cookoff. I was unsuccessful at recruiting anyone else to help us, so it was just him and me. I set my alarm for 2:00 a.m. and began the prep work of shredding lettuce and cilantro and slicing cherry tomatoes and jalapenos. I finished just in time to pack everything up and get to the contest venue right on time.
The first thing I noticed that made me nervous was that all the other teams had multiple helpers. I think five was the least number I counted. Other teams also had very elaborate set-ups – one was even a food truck made of wood that was assembled with power tools. We had three tables … we didn’t even have a tent covering.
Although a little shaken by our obvious newby standing, I was determined to give it my best shot. When service started it started with a bang and at about an hour and a half into the competition our line was probably 100 people deep. People began telling us they had been in line for over an hour. So, we switched gears, and instead of building each tostada to look pretty and perfect, we started putting all the ingredients into a 2 oz. serving cup, topping it with a couple of chips and handing it to the customers. That helped move through the line much faster. We actually continued to serve until past closing time, far longer than most other teams who ran out of food. (I am absolutely sure the other teams did not come prepared to feed 2000 people.)
Roadkill Cookoff Award Ceremony
I left Greg to handle most of the cleaning and packing up while I scurried over to the award ceremony. I was sunburnt and sweaty and my feet were killing me, but I still remained hopeful for one of the five cash prizes. The prizes were:
- People’s Choice (Tasters each got a ballot that they used to vote for their favorite)
- Showmanship (Awarded by the judges for design of serving space and dress/demeanor of team)
- Judge’s First Place (based on taste, originality, and presentation of the meal, and showmanship)
- Judge’s Second Place ((based on taste, originality, and presentation of the meal, and showmanship)
- Judge’s Third Place (based on taste, originality, and presentation of the meal, and showmanship)
Happily, we won third place. It was enough to make me feel that all the time, effort and investment were worth it. I fully planned to compete in the 2017 competition as well – I even know my protein and dishes – but Greg’s and my travel schedule doesn’t allow it. I’ll be back some day though, and this time I’ll be eyeing first place!
For more information on the Marlinton, Virginia, Autumn Harvest Festival and West Virginia Roadkill Cookoff, check out Roadkill Food Festival.