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Are you ready for some chocolate-vodka cherries?

Category: Super Bowl, tailgate, RV
Source: National Post, Canada
Publish Date: Saturday, January 31, 2009
Summary: When the Arizona Cardinals go up against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII tomorrow, the team with the best gridiron skills will be decided on the field. The team with the best food will be decided out in the parking lot.

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Dave McGinn,  Weekend Post  Published: Saturday, January 31, 2009

When the Arizona Cardinals go up against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII tomorrow, the team with the best gridiron skills will be decided on the field. The team with the best food will be decided out in the parking lot.

With the biggest game in professional football on the horizon, fans will be cooking up some delicious grub in favour of their favourite team. And though nachos may be your idea of a Super Bowl snack, the fans who rally outside stadiums on game day throughout the NFL regular season are increasingly winning culinary recognition.

Indeed, while football fans have never been known as a sophisticated bunch -- the grunting and face painting go a long way toward hiding nuance -- tailgate food has become complex recently, thanks to the culinary devotion of those who party in the parking lot and new equipment that lets them prepare dishes that were impossible to make just a few short years ago.

"It's not just burgers and brats out there, it's all out gourmet food," says Jay DiEugenio, host of Internet talk-radio show The Tailgate Guy, who also helped put together the I Got Your Tailgate Party Right Here! cookbook, featuring recipes from tailgaters who support each of the NFL teams.

And much like the game itself, tailgate cooking can be a highly competitive exercise.

"As generous and as wonderful as tailgaters are, there's a lot of one-upmanship in tailgating," says Kevin Miller, publisher of Tailgater Monthly, a U. S.-based magazine.

"These people truly have a passion for what they do and they want to be known for having the best tailgate in the parking lot. And that's not necessarily the best party, that's the best food. It's all about the food."

Tailgater Monthly estimates as many as 20 million people in the United States will tailgate in 2009. That number has been growing steadily for a decade. And the growing popularity of tailgating has earned increasing recognition for its food. On last year's season of Top Chef, a Food Network show about culinary experts going head-to-head, competitors were challenged to cook gourmet tailgate food outside a Chicago Bears game and were judged by the fans.

As well, tailgate cuisine has been reaching an audience well beyond sports fans thanks to the publication of several cookbooks in recent years. In 2002, John Madden, the former NFL coach turned commentator, published John Madden's Ultimate Tailgating. Prior to that, it would have been next to impossible to find a tailgate cookbook at your local bookstore. Now, Fox Sports has published a tailgate cookbook, as has ESPN. Last year, Madden and country singer Faith Hill co-authored NBC Sunday Night Football Cookbook. Even Mario Batali got on the bandwagon with the publication of Mario Tailgates NASCAR Style in 2006.

"Everybody's looking to step up there game at tailgating," says David Joachim, author and editor of more than 30 cookbooks, including The Tailgater's Cookbook.

Helping fans step up their game is a wide array of portable equipment that wasn't on the market a decade ago, including pizza ovens, grills that can reach temperatures of 750 degrees and specially-designed Dutch ovens, perfect for outdoor cooking.

"Demand has skyrocketed, and it's been the reason we have a couple of products that we have," says Steve McGrath, marketing director of Camp Chef, a U. S.-based company that sells outdoor cooking equipment.

The company recently created the Keg Roaster for tailgaters, a gizmo designed specifically for cooking either three beer-can chickens at a time or one beer-can turkey.

The trend towards new equipment reached a peak in 2007 when Ford released the Champions Tailgate F150, a one-off prize vehicle that came equipped with five plasma screen TVs, an Xbox 360 and a gas grill built into the truck bed.

"What's really kind of neat in tailgating in the last few years is the outdoor-cooking equipment that's being invented and brought to market. It allows people to bake cookies or bake a cake out in the parking lot. It's really some very unique stuff," says DiEugenio. "You can really set up a full kitchen out in the parking lot."

Of course, with just a grill, tailgaters can show off their chops, whether they are New England Patriots fans warming chowder or Dallas Cowboys fans cooking up TexMex.

"Each city features the regional specialties of that area," DiEugenio says.

But tailgate cooking is not just about regionalism, says Joachim. It's about making a statement about your team or their rivals.

"You either want to represent the regional food or the team colours," says Joachim. So, Pittsburgh fans might want to cook quesadillas with black beans and yellow cheese, he says. Cardinals fans who tailgate in Phoenix are known to cook what they call "Big Red Balls," cherries marinated in chocolate vodka. On the flip side, there's always the option of attack cooking.

"Instead of representing your team, you can cook the competition, and usually that means eating their team mascot," Joachim says.

He's not suggesting Steelers fans go out and cook a cardinal. Joachim suggests finding a good quail recipe. But really, he says, "Any small bird would do."

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