If you're trying to track down Joe Cahn,locate the nearest football stadium and follow the smell of bratwurst.
Chances are you'll find him there. For the last five years,the New Orleans chef (actually,he prefers to be called a Creole cook) has driven over 235,000 miles,used 35,934 gallons of gas and eaten countless pounds of hotdogs,hamburgers and other barbecue bric-a-brac.
As the world's only professional tailgater,that's what he does. On this season's tour,Cahn will visit 50 college and professional football games—sometimes two a day—as he crisscrosses the country in his customized motor home,the “JoeMobile.”
His quest: to find the best recipes,scope out the latest in parking lot cookery and,of course,swap stories with fellow fans. Cahn is taking down his travels for his upcoming book,“The Official Tailgating Cookbook,” to be published by Random House.
“I feel like I'm the Martha Stewart of tailgating,” says Cahn,53,a wry smile spreading across his bearded face. “No one's having as much fun as I am.”
A business card Cahn hands out to fans identifies him as the “Commissioner of Tailgating,” a title he takes on with mock seriousness.
To understand the nature of his self-appointed position,watch him make his rounds.
On a chilly Sunday afternoon,Cahn chats with a trio of fans in the parking lot at FedEx Field before the start of a Washington Redskins-New York Giants game. After telling them about his trek,he asks them about their tailgating habits and their favorite dishes. One of them,Maria Werlein,offers him a plate of casserole from her picnic table.
“No,thanks,” Cahn says in a rare show of moderation. “I'm on a diet.” Although Cahn is wearing the hometown team's jersey (No. 24 Champ Bailey),Werlein questions his loyalty.
“I'm a Redskins fan today,” the commissioner replies. “This morning,I was a Ravens fan. And tomorrow,I'm a Steelers fan. I'm always for the home team.” He claims to own apparel for every team he has visited.
One thing Cahn is quick to point out: He is living out his dreams.
Born in New Orleans,Cahn held a variety of jobs,including offshore worker,professional photographer and French Quarter buggy driver. Through the years he taught himself to cook in the Creole tradition from experiences with chefs and homemakers alike.
In 1980,he tapped those skills when he created the New Orleans School of Cooking as a place where genuine Creole cooking could be cultivated. Cahn gained acclaim as a top-notch chef and restaurateur. New Orleans,for example,named him an ambassador to the city.
His journey,though,was just beginning. In 1996,Cahn wondered how he could promote his beloved city for the Super Bowl it was to host the following year. That's when the idea hit him: Why not share the city's food and culture by tailgating across America?
After selling his business and his house,he bought a motor home and set off.
What Cahn didn't expect,though,was that he would fall in love with tailgating. Sharing stories and food with fans and families each week reminded him of a time gone by.
“What it seems like to me,” Cahn says of tailgating,“is you're walking through people's backyards,except there are no fences. In the parking lot,it's the good old-fashioned neighborhood. You can walk up to anyone and talk to them.”
So,for Cahn,tailgating became an occupation. Now in his sixth season,little has changed in the commissioner's game plan. The only significant difference has been that Cahn no longer prepares his own pre-game meals.
“I used to cook up some jambalaya at every stadium,but I found that when I did that,I couldn't walk around and talk to people,” he explains.
But with the generosity of his fellow tailgaters,Cahn has never had any trouble finding enough parking lot cuisine to satisfy his football-field-size appetite.
Which is a great help,because tailgating for an entire season is expensive. Cahn estimates that it costs $20,000 to $30,000,largely due to expenses such as gasoline and sports memorabilia. Most of the funding for his tour comes from his book advance and his sponsors,Tostitos tortilla chips and Monaco Coach Corporation.
Tailgating has enabled Cahn to taste almost every dish America has to offer. His list includes bratwurst (from Green Bay,Wis.),cheese steaks (Philadelphia),buffalo wings (Buffalo,N.Y.) and smoked salmon (Seattle). And,yes,Cahn says he knows just how lucky he is.
“The most common question: How do you get a job like this,and can I be your assistant?” he observes with a laugh.
12 oz. Bag Tostitos Scoops
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
15 sprigs oregano,leaves only,finely chopped
3 cups Parmesan cheese,grated
In a bowl,combine oregano and cheese. In a separate bowl,gently toss Tostitos Scoops with olive oil; try not to break chips. Lay oil-coated Scoops on cookie sheet in a single layer,cup side facing up. Top with a generous layer of cheese and oregano mixture.
At-Home Tailgate Cooking Directions:
Preheat oven to 375. Bake Scoops in center of the oven until cheese melts,about 3 minutes. Be careful not to let Scoops burn. Remove from oven and let them cool. Transfer Scoops to a large bowl to serve.
Stadium Tailgate Cooking Directions:
Preheat grill. Place Scoops on grill until cheese melts,about 3 minutes. Be careful not to let Scoops burn. Remove from grill and let them cool. Transfer Scoops to a large bowl to serve.
(12 to 15 servings)
1/4 cup vegetable oil 5 cups chicken stock or water flavored with chicken bouillon
1 ½ lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts,cut into 1 inch pieces 1 tbs. minced garlic
salt and ground black pepper 4 cups long grain rice
1 ½ lbs. sausage cut in ¼-inch slices 2 tbsp. Kitchen Bouquet (browning agent)
4 cups chopped onions 2 tbsp. seasoning salt
2 cups chopped celery 2 cups chopped green onions
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
Season chicken with salt and pepper; brown in hot oil in 8 quart Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook 5-to-7 minutes. Remove chicken and sausage from pan; set aside. Add onions,celery,green peppers and garlic; cook,stirring 7-10 minutes or until vegetables begin to wilt. Stir in chicken stock,reserved chicken and sausage,seasoning salt and Kitchen Bouquet. Bring to a boil. Add rice and return to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook 10 minutes; remove cover and quickly turn rice from top to bottom completely. Replace cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in green onions. For brown jambalaya,add 1 heaping tbsp. brown sugar to hot oil and caramelize,or make a roux,or use Kitchen Bouquet. For red jambalaya,add approximately 1/4 cup paprika or use 1/2 stock and 1/2 tomato juice or V-8 for your liquid. For seafood jambalaya,add cooked seafood when
rice is cooked.
If using an electric stove,reduce cooking time by 3-4 minutes. Four Tips: Use 1 cup of rice for every 2 cups of vegetables (onion,celery,bellpepper). Use 1 ¼ cups of liquid for every 1 cup of uncooked rice. One cup of uncooked rice will make 3 cups of cooked rice. Season accordingly. Cook jambalaya for a total of 25 to 30 minutes,stirring well after 10
Makes 3-4 cups
4 cup chopped,peeled fresh tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 to 4 Jalapeno peppers,seeded and finely chopped
1 tbsp. Oil
1 tbsp. Vinegar
2 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp. Cumin
salt to taste
12 oz. Bag Tostitos Scoops
In a bowl,combine all ingredients. Mix well. Let stand for about 2
hours. Serve at room temperature with Tostitos Scoops.