For most people, a barbecue emergency would entail running out of buns or over-charring the chicken wings. For the men and women of Operation BBQ Relief, that means it's time to drive into a disaster zone, fire up their smokers and serve hot meals to people on worst day of their lives.
There is something about barbecue that brings out the best in humankind. It's an inherently generous undertaking. No one makes just enough for a couple of plates; the time and effort just wouldn't be worth it. A giant hunk of meat - a shoulder, brisket, slab or ribs or even a whole, delicious beast - is cause for celebration and camaraderie.
It also presents a built-in invitation in the form of a smoky, meaty scent that acts as a homing beacon to your backyard. If you 'cue it up, they will come.
But after tornadoes laid waste to the town of Moore, Oklahoma, earlier this week, many residents were left without a backyard to call their own - let alone a smoker, tongs or even a plate from which to eat. That's when Operation BBQ Relief rolled in.
Chefs with Issues is a platform for chefs and farmers we love, fired up for causes about which they're passionate. Allison Robicelli is the co-owner (with her husband Matt) of Robicelli's, an award-winning cupcake business in New York City, and author of the upcoming "Robicelli's: A Love Story, with Cupcakes." Follow her on Twitter @robicellis.
My husband and I lost our first business in the fall of 2009. There were a billion contributing factors: a collapsing economy, a rent hike, a horrific family tragedy and a crumbling marriage that needed to be saved. Talking about it four years later seems like a trivial footnote in our story - some sort of inciting plot device that occurred offstage, scarcely remembered by the time the curtains closed. They hustled, they persevered, they became Q-list food celebrities and they all lived happily ever after.
No matter how far into the story we get, like a broken bone that never quite heals, I can still feel those initial moments of fallout as if they were yesterday: the fear of truly having lost it all; the jarring realization that in an instant, everything we had built may be gone forever and we might not not be strong enough to rebuild. I recall looking at my children and wondering how we let this happen, if we could have prevented it and how we can protect them when we couldn’t even protect ourselves.
It was worse than terror; it was a life without hope. A life I thought of ending more than once.
While we survived, I have been unable to purge the memory of what I felt in those months. The feeling rose again and turned into empathy in the days after Superstorm Sandy, and again this week watching a tornado destroy Moore, Oklahoma.
Severe weather striking your area of the country? Stock up on staples now and learn how to stay safe after the storm has passed.
Drew Robinson is the pitmaster at Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. He previously wrote about serving up gratitude in trouble times and why barbecue matters and the the sacred ritual of the tailgate. We ran this piece in 2012, but it seemed worth surfacing again for the game this weekend. A good rivalry never dies.
There are old traditions and then there are old football traditions. I had the fortune of witnessing one resurrected in my lifetime two years ago when Alabama played Texas in the Rose Bowl for the National Championship. But there are new traditions too.
Alabama vs LSU is not a historic rivalry, it is only really a new tradition because they both have become superpowers in the same division of the same conference. So much so that they have beaten away all of college football for a rematch in the BCS game.
How important is this game to each fan base? My grandfather was born and raised in New Orleans. He loved LSU. He loved Alabama too because that became his adopted home, but he never put the Crimson Tide above the Bengal Tigers.
Drew Robinson is the pitmaster at Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. He previously wrote about why barbecue matters.
My friend John Egerton told me once that sometimes when people have lost a loved one or are in despair all you can do is take them a bowl of potato salad and tell them you’re sorry.
He went on to say, emphatically, that there is great power in that sort of action. John spoke specifically about Southern foodways at that moment, but there was a universal truth in his message. I know from personal experience on the receiving end that is true and it is even more powerful when that compassion is delivered in numbers.
Food in the Field gives a sneak peek into what CNN's team is eating, and the food culture they encounter as they travel the globe. Eric Marrapodi is on the ground in Joplin, Missouri, covering the post-tornado devastation. Read his previous dispatch on the town's demoralizing lack of coffee.
Here in Joplin it is a tale of two cities. Much of the town is sparkling. Restaurants and hotels are packed. First responders, construction teams, and FEMA workers are tripping over each other in the lobbies.
Insurance adjusters in starched shirts with their logo emblazoned are seemingly everywhere. All State, State Farm and other insurers have satellite trucks set up and pop-up tents dot strip mall parking lots. Their work is well underway. Today any business still standing is flying a flag half mast.
Last night we had another tornado scare here. CNN photojournalist John Person, Brian Todd and I were chomping on steaks at the Outback in Joplin. We heard a faint siren. The manager jumped on the microphone, normally reserved to tell guests their table was ready.
"There's a report of a tornado coming toward us," he said. "All the staff is heading to the walk in cooler to take shelter. You are more than welcome to join us."