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Gustatorial discoveries at Dusty’s

By G.D. Maxwell I have a theory about children. I probably have a theory because I don’t have a child. If I had a child, I wouldn’t need a theory, I’d already have an experiment in progress.

By G.D. Maxwell

I have a theory about children. I probably have a theory because I don’t have a child. If I had a child, I wouldn’t need a theory, I’d already have an experiment in progress. But falling short in the procreation department, I’ll stick with theories.

My theory is this: No child under the age of 16 should ever be fed anything they don’t want to eat. And under no circumstances should they be fed anything more exquisite than hot dogs, pizza, tater tots and macaroni and cheese, although the mac ’n’ cheese itself may be much more exquisite than Kraft Dinner.

Of course, I also have a theory that kids should be packed off to boarding school but that’s a different column.

There are fundamentally sound reasons supporting this theory. For starters, while children’s palates are finely-honed enough to discriminate between, say, red and yellow Smarties or gummi worms as opposed to gummi toes, their nascent tastebuds don’t really register the difference between a hamburger and filet mignon. So any parent forcing their kid to eat something more sublime than a Fun Meal (sic) is either wasting time and money, torturing their child or shamelessly social climbing. Why bother?

Besides, just suppose you have a mutant – gifted – child. Suppose the little squirt actually develops a taste for grilled lobster tail sauced in a reduction of herb-infused fish fumet and rare sturgeon roe. What an insufferable little monster he or she is going to be next time you stop at White Spot for a quick nosh. Introducing kids to food like that is an act of parental over-reaching that can only lead to no good... or possibly sushi day at school.

Kids should ‘discover’ food completely by accident. Or at least driven by their own curiosity led, in turn, by their sensitive little noses. Or is that just the way Zippy the Dog does it? No, it works for children too.

The benefits of this theory are manifold. First off, you save a wad on food costs. Second, the words ‘meal planning’ disappear from your vocabulary. Third, you don’t wind up raising some weird little Poindexter who doesn’t fit in with the rest of his taste-challenged cohorts.

And finally, maybe even most importantly, the thrill of serendipitous discovery – at whatever age – is the fuel of creativity. Forcing a kid to eat kidneys is just money in the bank for some shrink 20 years down the road. Letting him ‘discover’ he’s eating kidneys in a funky pub in Munich because he’s hungover after two days of drinking high-octane beer at Oktoberfest and doesn’t know the German word for kidney, well baby, that’s an adventure.

The potential for the thrill of discovery – gustatorially speaking – is rife this weekend ‘round Creekside. Having entrenched the rights to hold the Canadian National BBQ Championships at Dusty’s, the whole affair has been massaged through the Intrawest Magic Marketing Machine, a splinter group of the Way-Cool Ideas Department, and come out the other end more kid-friendly than ever before.

To be frank, the thought of making anything more kid-friendly would generally horrify me. But my own first barbeque experience – a serendipitous discovery, naturally – was so soul-defining, even I am not curmudgeonly enough to deny the little monsters the same chance to expand their food horizons and catch a glimpse of wonders that can be wrought with a little bit of spice and smoke and a whole lotta love and pork.

Truth be told, barbeque is, in fact, kid food. Sweet, sticky, succulent, finger food. Anyone who eats barbeque without makin’ a mess of their fingers and mouths, anyone who even thinks of eating barbeque within sight of a knife and fork, anyone who doesn’t suck a polished-clean rib bone just because to do anything less would be an affront to the swine who gave it all up for your personal pleasure, well friends, that’s a person who has some serious issues to talk out with a mental health professional and five’ll getcha ten those issues have something to do with toilet training.

My own first barbeque experience came at the tender age of single digits, the exact single digit being lost in the fog of childhood. Coming at a time before Max’s Theorem, my folks encouraged but did not force me to try a rib, about which I was singularly indifferent, surrounded as it was by plates of corn on the cob which is most certainly the seminal kid food.

But little encouragement was needed. Ribs – and how many cuts of meat, as opposed to fowl, are named after their anatomical neighbourhood – had at least two outstanding qualities any kid would find irresistible. First was the smell. Ribs smell like ribs but they don’t smell like other meat and they certainly don’t smell like other food. Pungent, inherently sweet, smoky, ribs seduce. They suggest a secret adults might have overlooked. Part entree, part desert, ribs bridge the gap between food and candy. They are the elusive food your parents want you to eat but you want to eat even more, despite the internal struggle raging over whether you should hold true to form and make a fuss or just dive in.

And if the smell isn’t enough – maybe your nose is a bit stuffy or you’re put off by the undertone of vinegar a not quite cooked sauce has let linger over the whole platter – the socially acceptable method of eating ribs is enough to make your kid heart turn cartwheels in your tiny chest. Adults eat ribs with their fingers. The most sacred rule of mealtime falls off the table when ribs show up. Finger food. Not just finger food, MESSY FINGER FOOD. Face-smearin’, hair-stickin’, clothes-stainin’, sister-torturin’ finger food.

I’m sure the first ribs I ever ate were, compared to competition ribs, indifferent. That they changed my life and gave me a whole new insight into heaven on earth speaks to the power of even indifferent barbeque. I can hardly imagine what might have happened if the first rib I ever ate had been a slaved-over, pampered, cosseted, competition rib. A rib close, but not quite good enough, to be sent in for judging.

That’s what’s in store for some lucky kids this Sunday at Dusty’s. Having come from miles away to compete for braggin’ rights and an entry ticket to bigger competitions, the folks cooking ribs and butt and brisket and chicken this weekend will cook a whole lot more than they need for judging because they want to make sure they have the best of the best to be scored on. The rest? The rest is up for grabs by kids of all ages. But you’ve got to be there and you’ve got to be fast.

Oh yeah, and lose the face paintin’. Paint your own with barbeque sauce.