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Sunday, February 12, 2012

CHAMPION of the Dutch Oven

Omar Alvarez never imagined competing in a Dutch Oven Cooking Competition. By shear chance, he stumbled across a 4th of July Cooking-Off being held in Burley, Idaho, hosted by the International Dutch Oven Society.  As he viewed the competing cooks stirring ingredients into the large cast iron cookware, Omar reflected to his childhood memories, thinking, "I can do that."

Growing up in Kingsville, Texas, Omar remembered the "Cocineros,"  Spanish for Cook, who fed the working cowboys of KING Ranch.  The ranch legacy is deep rooted into his ancestry through the first Vaqueros.  Captain Richard King rode south from drought suffering Texas in search for good cattle. Arriving at the heart of Mexico in state of Tamaulipas, he found the people of Cruillas in such dire straits, they were willing to sell all their cattle in an attempt to survive the drought.  As Capt. King drove the herd north back to Texas, he soon realized,  that in solving an immediate problem for the townspeople, he had simultaneously removed their long-term means of livelihood. King turned his horse back towards the town to offer a proposal for these people. He would provide them with food, shelter and an income if they would move and come work on his ranch. The townspeople conferred and many of them agreed to move north with Captain King. These Mexican Vaqueros were already expert horseman and herders. Their resilient denizens of the rugged Mexican range became known as as Los Kineños – King's people.

"Anyone growing up in Kingsville, had some sort of connection with the Ranch," states Omar.  While he grew up in town, many relatives lived and worked on the ranch. His mother was employed as a school teacher in a one room school at the Laureles Division of King Ranch, twenty miles away from town. King Ranch, larger than the state of Rhode Island offered nearly everything for their employees including school houses, clinics, housing and today, descendants for the early Kineños continue the legacy since 1853. 

Living in town, Omar attended the schools in Kingsville a few miles from the ranch headquarters. Classmates like (Tres, Sally and Tio Kleberg) were direct descendants of Richard King and heirs to the King Ranch trust.  "Growing up with the Kleberg's, they were great kids and are great folks today. I had many friends during my school days which I am in contact with today, thanks to facebook," states Omar. He would often spend time at the ranch watching the daily routine of the Cocineros prepare meals with the Dutch Ovens and cast iron skillets. The cooks perform various ranch style cooking from open pits too chuckwagons. While the ranch often held private barbecues and gatherings, in 1990 they open their gates to the public for the annual ranch hand breakfast.  It's held on the Saturday prior to the Thanksgiving weekend raising money to benefit “La Posada de Kingsville,” a festival of lights in Kingsville, Texas.  Each year, many of the old  Kineños come to the breakfast like a large family reunion visiting with the Kleberg's, seeing their old friends and always making new friends.

After a career working with a large drug store company, Omar had recently relocated to the town of Burley, Idaho following life long friends, the Mayfield family from San Diego, California. As the cooks shovel coal over the dutch ovens during the competition, Omar's rumination of  the daily events of King Ranch during his childhood days found him immediately purchasing two Dutch-Ovens and entered in a cook-off just two weeks away.

Dian Mayfield and Omar Alvarez
In his ecstatic excitement, Omar called his long time friend Dian Mayfield, telling her, "I just entered us in a cooking competition." Dian questioned in her reply, "Barbeque?".  "No, Dutch Oven," stated Omar.  "What is a Dutch Oven" questioned Dian.  They came in second place at the Cassia County Fair. The next year they entered as a team in the Burley, Idaho 4th of July event coming in first place. The Cassia County Fair event followed, where they once again won first place.  That made them eligible for the World Champion Dutch Oven Cook-Off being held in Salt lake City, Utah.

Cooking a Crawfish Ettuffee Main dish at the World Championship, Dian and Omar were awarded Forth Place.  "We learned a lot at that first shot at the World Championship.  Heat control is the most important aspect in Dutch Oven Cooking," states Omar. Dian further explain,  "You want to try to duplicate your home oven.  If you get have too many coals too the middle underneath the pan, it will burn your bread instead of baking it. However, if you're sauteing, you want to have a lot of coals on the bottom, because you want high heat."   In 2007, Dian and Omar won many events making them again, eligible to compete in the World Championship for 2008.

"We knew we were up against some of the best cooks in the Country , so we adjusted our recipes accordingly. For dessert we came up with our own version of Tiramisu, a three layer cake that is difficult to perfect in a Dutch Oven!  Our bread was a Raspberry Twist, with our main dish, a version of Steak Diane, using a Flat iron steak in wine sauce plus twice baked potatoes swirls" stated Omar.

There were 15 teams in the finals, coming from as far away as Oklahoma. Each team prepares the required three dishes: a dessert, a bread and a main dish, all in Dutch ovens using only hot coals for heat.  To win a shot  in the finals, each team had to win an IDOS - sanctioned cook-off during the past year and then cook in the semifinals on Thursday and Friday night.

"After announcing the winners of third and second place, I still remember those words" states Omar.  "and from Burley, Idaho the new World Champions Dian Mayfield and Omar Alvarez.   Needless to say we were in shock! We just looked at each other not believing what we had just heard.  Us?  Really us?   Dian and I were awarded a check for $5000 and the title of World Champions."

Since their World Championship, Omar has devoted his energy recruiting others into the world of out door cooking using the cast iron Dutch Ovens along with helping judge other Dutch Oven competitions. As well, assisting the organization as they get ready for the 2012 International Dutch Oven Society World Championship Cook-Off,  March 15, 16 and 17th at the  South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, Utah.

When Cowboys and Chuckwagon Cooking asked Omar about what greatest impact in life helped him with his championship, he replied,  "I had such a memorable opportunity spending quality time at King Ranch during my youth, little did I know then, that a common event of the ranch would influence my life nearly half a century later."

We have included one of the winning recipes below, although a cookbook of recipes from the semifinals and championship cook-off is available through International Dutch Oven Society (IDOS)


Equipment: 12-inch and 5-inch Dutch ovens
Charcoal briquettes

1 cup milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 3 tablespoons, melted
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rapid-rise active dry yeast
1 large egg, beaten
18-ounce jar raspberry seedless preserves
1/2 pint raspberries

Combine milk and 3 tablespoons butter in small oven, heat to 110-115 degrees. In a large bowl, combine 1/2 cup flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Slowly mix in milk mixture, and beat until smooth.
Slice half of the raspberries in half.
Punch down dough and divide in half. Roll out first half to fit the bottom of the 12-inch pot. Place dough in oven and brush with melted butter. Coat dough with raspberry preserves. Evenly distribute raspberry halves.

Roll out second half of dough and cover the first half. Press a small condiment cup lightly into center of dough to mark a 2-inch circle. Remove the cup and slice through both layers of dough from the circle to the edge of the pot, in 16 increments. This is easier if you cut into quarters and then split quarters.
Twist each section 3 to 4 times and set back in Dutch oven. Cover and let rise 30 minutes.

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (not melted)
2 tablespoons milk
1 egg yolk

In a small bowl, combine flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter until crumbly. In another bowl, mix milk and egg yolk with a fork. Once bread has risen, brush top with egg mixture and sprinkle with dry topping. Using 10 coals on bottom and 16 on top, cook 30-45 minutes, until top is golden brown. If after 30 minutes, the top still needs more time, remove the bottom coals to prevent burning.

Raspberry Sauce:
1/2 pint raspberries
1 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon water

In a 5-inch Dutch oven, combine raspberries (reserving a few for garnish), sugar, lemon juice and water. Simmer until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh, extracting as much juice as you can. Drizzle over bread.

Powdered Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons milk

In a small bowl, combine powdered sugar and milk and whisk until smooth. Drizzle over bread. Garnish with reserved raspberries. Serves 12.

Tiramisu Cake IDOS 2008 Winner World Championship
Flat iron steak in wine sauce plus twice baked potatoes swirls

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1 comment:

  1. I meet Omar at the 2010 WCCO. I have been a member of I.D.O.S. for over 20 years. I wish Omar all the luck this year. I don"t know if he is competing or judging this year. I can't make it there this year. Hope to see him and all my Friends there next year. Good luck to all contestants.
    Ron Clanton
    The Outlaw Gourmet