Jeff Spiegel’s Barbeque is “Best on the Beach”

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 17, No. 31            August 9, 2007

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L-R The winners Circle! Amy Knox, Jeff Spiegel and Ralph Pagano.

Ralph Pagano’s show (Pressure Cook) will air the competition on Mojo TV.

The scent of smoldering charcoal wafted through the air at the first ever “Best on the Beach” Barbeque Competition and Beach Bash which was held at the picturesque Azul Resort/Rojo Lounge in North Ambergris Caye. This past Sunday, in celebration of the art of outdoor cuisine, the fiery event saw six of San Pedro’s finest chefs showcasing their unique open flame styles and putting their grilling talents to test. At the end of a “smoking” day, Azul’s very own Jeff Spiegel walked off as “Best on the Beach” with his mouthwatering, finger licking guava barbequed ribs.

    Despite the rain, barbeque aficionados congregated at Azul Resort for a one of a kind finger licking experience. Each team was required to bring their own grill, utensils and there selected meat of choice whilst Azul provided the charcoal, fluid and a Styrofoam container - and off they went!! Participants had from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the evening to prepare two identical plates of barbeque for the judges. The plates were to contain the barbequed meat with two additional side dishes in which they could have prepared before time. The “king of the grill” was selected by an esteemed panel of judges which was based out of one hundred points including organization, hygiene, knife skills, presentation, entertainment, and, of course, taste. After the barbequers spent all day on their grills perfecting their meats, the juicy smoky scent permeated thru the air where the hungry crowd of carnivores began to linger for some soul food and waited patiently to taste test the dishes. The smoke flavor and seasonings absorbed throughout the meats for a finger-licking good meal. The event also drew the host and crew of the television hit “Meal Ticket”, Ralph Pagano to enter and participate in the contest. Chef Ralph who has integrated himself as one of the world’s top chef showed off his grilling skills and prepared some lip-smacking juicy spare ribs of his own.

    Ralph Pagano (Pictured above at right with Mata Chica chef Reynaldo Tzul), was runner up in 2002’s Hell’s Kitchen, and has appeared in Iron Chef America from the US’s Food Network, where he competed and lost to Iron Chef Bobby Flay. However, his energetic charm and magnetism has taken him places. Among them is beautiful San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, as part of his new upcoming hit show Pressure Cook which will air on Mojo TV. Cooking, tasting and enjoying the people and ambience worldwide, his escapades have led him to the Northern Lights in Iceland, Mexico and Frontier Days in Wyoming.

    While in San Pedro, Ralph and his able staff got to enjoy the delicious and tasty Belizean cooking calling the style of cooking Tropical Nouveau. “Belize is great, cuisine wise. It uses its Latin influences with its heat and spice but it also uses its Caribbean influence by its fantastic use of fruits and seafood. The combination is simply spectacular.”

    And, out of all the meals he had while in Ambergris Caye, which did Ralph enjoy the most. “I have had Rice and Beans before, but the coconut Rice and Beans and deliciously stewed chicken from El Fogon simply did it for me. Miss Susana’s food, is soul food and island cooking at its best. I tell you, San Pedro has the best food on any island including Manhattan,” he ended.

    Apart from the grilling competition, the crowd got to enjoy some fun in the sun and meet up with celebrity guests and judges. The fanfare was made complete with delicious pull porked tacos, fresh shrimp ceviche, $10 rojo runners, their signature thirst quenching mojitos and who could forget the beer of choice, ice cold Belikins. The event was a competition, but participants said they simply enjoyed being out in the beach, sharing some recipes and making their creations. With much chatter, judges sniffed, bit, licked and eyed the food whilst taste testing the foods that were prepared from some of the finest chefs around. The “Best on the Beach” top three winners were: Celebrity Chef Ralph who received third place, Amy Knox of Wild Mangoes got second place and Jeff Spiegel of Azul resort cooked up a killer guava glazed ribs served with barbecue beans and chipotle slaw to take first place. The three winners received several amazing gift packages and tours plus a unique conch shell trophy created by Azul Designs and built by John Queztal.

    Organizer of the event, Vivian Wu of Azul Resort, commented that, “This competition is the first of many to come in the future; ‘Best On The Beach’ is going to be an event every resort and business on the island can get involved in, this time we were the guinea pigs for a BBQ, but next time it might be a concert, a sporting event, or just a big New Year’s Bash!” Other grill masters included: Glenn Schwendinger of Rendezvous Restaurant, Chap Ross of the Tackle Box, Rebecca Arceo of Tabu and Reynaldo Tzul of Mambo at Mata Chica. Special thanks to the sponsors: Southside Meats, Portofino Beach Resort, Island Ferry, John Queztal, Premium Wines and Spirits, Graniel’s Cabinet Shop, Rendezvous Restaurant and Winery, Rojo Lounge, Wild Mangoes, Mambo at Mata Chica, Tackle Box, Seaduced and Tabu, El Fogon, Chi Custom Grills, and Cayo Espanto. The beach bash and barbeque competition proved a “smoking” success, let’s do it again guys!!
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