The annual Horse Town Brew n’ Que Festival in Norco is coming round again. This year, the event starts on Friday, June 1, 2018, with their VIP Kickoff Reception feature this year’s Barbeque Throwdown competitors, Chef Phillip Dell and Chef Michael Character. Chef Dell was the Champion of the Food Network’s Chopped: Cook Your Butt Off competition and a contestant on Cutthroat Kitchen; while Chef Character competed on both BBQ Pit Wars and BBQ Pitmasters on the Destination America Channel. The main event, the KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) sanctioned BBQ competition, takes place on Saturday, June 2, 2018, along with the BBQ Throwdown between Chef Character and Chef Dell.
Chef Dell talked with The Los Angeles Beat today about his passion for barbeque, his quest to inspire people to have a healthier lifestyle and diet; and this year’s Horse Town The Horse Town Brew n’ Que Festival in Norco. Chef Dell hails from Las Vegas, where he had been the Pastry Sous Chef at the Wynn-Las Vegas before starting his own private chef’s company, Sin City Chefs. Overweight from childhood, he decided in 2005 that he needed to improve his health and lifestyle, dropping 92 lbs. in 18 months. He kept his passion for foods but channeled it into creating healthier recipes as well as sharing lifestyle changes for a healthier life.
Since then, Chef Dell was invited to participate in the Food Network’s “Chopped: Cook Your Butt Off” competition, which pitted four top chefs against each other, all of whom had achieved a dramatic weight loss. By the time the dust settled, Chef Dell was the Chopped Champion. Since then, he has won the Flavors of the Heart and Healthy Eating Magazine’s top awards for best transformed and heart-healthy recipes, as well as the endorsement of the American Heart Association for heart-healthy recipes. He currently is also an instructor, teaching classes and seminars in healthier cooking and lifestyles. This, in addition to his Fusion Beastro food truck; and his Swine Thyme U.S.A. Barbeque Team keeps Chef Dell very busy.
Barbeque is still one of his passions, with his Swine Thyme U.S.A. Barbeque Team. As a three-time Grand Champion on the barbeque circuit; and ranked #1 in Chicken by the KCBS, Chef Dell has some serious BBQ chops.
Q: Chef Dell, your barbeque team, Swine Thyme U.S.A., has been invited to top competitions such as the Jack Daniels Invitational Barbeque and the World Food Championships. What do you find special about barbeque?
A: The camaraderie amongst the teams and the individuals that are members of the teams. It’s like one big gigantic happy family. Everybody is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure everyone is OK.
Q: Pork, brisket, ribs, and chicken. Which do you find the most interesting; and which the most challenging?
A: Interesting is a relative term. To me, the most interesting is probably brisket, because there is so much that goes into making brisket, cooking it properly. It can be completely different from one cow to the nex—hypothetically all meat is like that. However, with brisket, if the cow was very active it’s going to change the texture. If the fat content changes, it changes the texture. It changes the way you have to cook it. That also goes straight into probably the most challenging to cook. The most challenging to get the way the judges prefer could be either ribs or brisket. You just never know, sometimes. Sometimes they want it a little more what we call underdone. Or maybe they want it a little more overdone, you just never know, and so it’s a very tricky game to play and brisket seems to be one of the most difficult to land on happy judges all the time.
Q: You’re a big proponent of healthy cooking and a healthier lifestyle. How does barbeque fit into that?
A: Relaxation. When you think of barbeque, what do you think of? You think of people sitting in a backyard, having a great time, playing games, maybe kicking back a few beverages. It’s a relaxation. We are so busy these days in our lives that we have no time to sit back and relax. In order to have a healthy lifestyle, you not only have to eat well but you have to live well. Living well can mean so many things to so many people, but for me, allowing time to sit and relax and reflect and enjoy company—just enjoy life.
Q: Are you excited to be doing the Barbeque Throwdown at the Horse Town Brew n’ Que Festival?
A: I am unbelievably excited. When Debbie Yopp, the organizer, got ahold of me, I was elated first of all that she would consider me for this division and also, I never turn down a competition. When I was given the opportunity, it definitely told me I had to do it. It is something I love to do—I love to barbeque. I love to compete. I love to see people, and it’s not going to hurt to get out of Las Vegas for a little while and into some cooler weather too!
Q: You were the Chopped Champion on the Food Network’s Chopped: Cook Your Butt Off competition. So healthy eating can still be tasty eating?
A: Absolutely. When I decided to lose the weight, the first thing I wanted to do—you know that everybody has cravings—when people are on a diet, they restrict themselves so badly that they are not enjoying what they are eating at all, first of all. I wanted to have the mindset of ‘first you have to change your mind in order to change your body.’ You have to automatically know that the food that you are eating is going to be better for you no matter what and that the more you eat clean, the more things actually taste better in their natural form. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that there is no reason why you can’t transform the things you like to eat and make it a healthier version. For instance, if you have a burger, a lot of times people will use an 80/20, that’s 80 percent lean meat and 20 percent fat, or they’ll do an 85/15. If you cook it properly, 96/4 is fantastic, it tastes just like a steak. That alone changes the composition of how ‘bad’ the meat can be for you. The second thing is to replace white bread with whole wheat or sprouted grains, or don’t use bread at all, use lettuce wraps and that sort of thing to cover your food with. Using a tortilla, all these different things are just little minor details that you can do to change the same food that you’re eating everyday—burgers, tacos, nachos, pizza and all that stuff—and changing it to a little bit healthier version. There are so many ways to do that; and so when I decided to lose the weight, I decided I would eat the same foods, but change the way the calories count in my body. I’m going to make sure the calories are good for me and not against me.
Q: So the Barbeque Throwdown at the Horse Town Brew n’ Que Festival in Norco is a challenge you’re looking forward to?
A: One thing that people always say is, ‘Are you going to win?’ First of all, I accepted Jesus a long time ago, so I’m already a winner. The second part of that is I always say I’m going to do well. The important part is that at the end of the day, there’s a worldly winner. But truthfully, we’re all there to have a good time and the competition is simply there to give us another way to interact with each other and have a good time; play the same game, make it a little more personal if you will. But win or lose, it doesn’t matter. I’ve won quite a few and I’ve lost quite a few, so it doesn’t really matter what happens. If you win them all, that’s great, but it’s not really what happens when you win. But it’s what happens when you lose and how you react about it.
Q: Thank you, Chef Dell. We’re looking forward to seeing you at the Horse Town Brew n’ Que Festival in Norco!
The Horse Town Brew n’ Que Festival will feature great barbeque, a wide choice of craft beers and a lineup of excellent music. Saturday, the competition day, will also have a wide variety of food and barbeque vendors. There is also a Kid’s Que event on Saturday. Friday’s Meat and Greet Reception will have food as well as a chance to meet both Chef Dell and Chef Character. On Sunday, a limited amount of people will be able to attend the Table Captain and Judge’s classes to qualify as official KCBS Certified BBQ Judges and Table Captains.
The event, held at the George Ingalls Equestrian Center in Norco, has plenty of parking. If you decide you’d rather ride your horse to the event, there are also plenty of trails as well as hitching posts for your horse at the Center. The event is less than a 2-hour drive from Downtown Los Angeles and most of Orange County. On the event website, there are also links to local lodging for the Horse Town Brew N’ Que Festival if you want to make a weekend of it.
When The Los Angeles Beat covered the inaugural Horse Town Brew n’ Que Festival, it quickly proved to be an awesome event. With BBQ legends Myron Mixon and Big Moe Cason, it got off to a great start. This year, Chef Dell and Chef Character will bring the same energy to the Throwdown, while many of the nation’s top barbeque pitmasters and teams compete for awards in pork, chicken, brisket, and ribs. The Horse Town Brew n’ Que Festival is a barbeque event that is not to be missed.
Horse Town Brew n’ Que Festival
VIP Meat and Greet Kickoff Reception
June 1, 2018, 6 p.m.
June 2, 2018, 1 p.m.- 8 p.m.
Table Captain’s and Judge’s Classes
June 3, 2018, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m.