Barbacoa, Beer, Roch Carrier and The Montreal Canadians!
Well this past weekend was special indeed for more reasons than one. I got a rare chance because of a last minute call from my brother to blast down to Montreal and see a Habs game thanks to a great family friend, thanks again Joel. It took me almost a nano second to make up my mind and even though I am not a big hockey fan, I had never seen the Habs play live, especially on their own ice at the Bell Centre, so I quickly arranged things with my wife, jumped into the truck and headed for Montreal.
It was a picture perfect late afternoon drive and as I headed east along the 417 my imagination was firing on all cylinders regarding how the night would unfold and the closer I got to Montreal the more excited I became. I finally got in at around 6ish and as I expected, my brother met me at the door before I even had a chance to ring the bell dawning a hand knit red, white and blue Habs scarf with a Habs baseball cap to match. Now most of you don’t know my brother but rest assured he is what I would categorize as an “Uber Fan” of hockey, HABS HOCKEY, for the record, alpine ski racing and over the past few years he has become crazy about F1 racing. I will also add that he’s the real deal as well. Nobody I know can rhyme off more sporting stats than Hank and his pure passion for sport in general is difficult to top and impressive to watch.
So, no sooner than I got into my Aunt’s house a cab showed up at the door and we were off yet again to go take part in the Canadian ritual that is “Hockey Night In Canada” right in the heart of downtown Montreal. As the cab sped off the the excitement grew and grew in my gut and as Hank made more cell calls than Obama on inauguration day I knew it would be a night to remember. You see my brother works in Collingwood, Ontario for one of Canada’s leading sporting goods retailers called Sporting Life and they are based out of Toronto so before we even got to the game the insults and rival jabs had commenced from Toronto. It was all out cell phone war via calls and texts that “les boys” were going down in flames! Over our dead bodies!
So we get to the Bell Centre and its as I expected, a sea of intermingled Leaf and Canadian jersey’s hanging around taking in the scene, eyes fixed on one another, seedy looking scalpers trying to make a buck, the aroma’s of flavored bratwurst, poutine, perfume and cigars amidst the chilling night air and the bronzed hockey gods of Beliveau, Lafleur and Richard looking down on us. A picture worth painting for sure.
As we scrambled to get into the arena shoulder to shoulder with the blue and whites one could feel the tension like a gladiator match about to commence. We made a dash for our seats but not without first quenching our thirsts with you guessed it, BEER! Now, I admit, Molson Ex is last on my list of favorite beers but when its the only one on tap, drink it we will and on this night we drank enough of it to float a small cruise ship down the Rideau canal, more on this later.
We finally got to our seats and what a sight it was! It takes a few minutes to adjust to the scene around you but what a feeling! We got to see the last remaining minutes of warm up and as the players exited the ice the home team build up commenced. As I sat there in ahhh my eyes scanned the hanging legendary jersey’s above, Dryden, Lafleur, Robinson, Gainey, Savard, Richard, a modern day museum of hockey history surrounded by high tech lighting and digital imagery and 22,000 eager and devoted fans just waiting to get a glimpse of their favorite player. A few more minutes passed and the lights dimmed faintly and on the jumbo screen above us an incredible slideshow played of the past 100 years of Montreal Canadian hockey history. As the goose bumps rose and the hair on the back of my neck stood at attention I was overcome by an incredible rush of emotion as I sat riveted to my seat gazing at all these great slides that were mixed with images of ordinary Canadians in various parts of the world and the country dawning their favorite piece of Habs fanware, if that’s a word, meaning hats, jersey’s stickers etc.
By now, most of you guys are asking yourself, what does this story have to do with “The Grateful Griller” or the wonderful world of cooking on your Big Green Egg’s or Primo ovens. Great question! The answer is simple. Pure passion for what you do! Once upon a time in and around ’04 I had the pleasure of hosting and grilling up a storm for some friends of my Father-in Law at our place in Wakefield, QC. I knew nobody, but one man’s name on the day stood out for some reason and I couldn’t figure it out. After some brief consultation with my Father-in-Law the penny dropped! I would be grilling for Mr. Roch Carrier!!!!! Yes sir, the man and famous Canadian author who wrote one of my favorite books of all time, “The Hockey Sweater”. Not only is this a treasure that every Canadian household should own but if you ever get the chance like I have had to see the Habs and Leafs go toe to toe, it all just makes sense.
I remember the day like it was yesterday. I had had my “Big Green Egg” for a few years already and the menu for the day was a mixed grill of assorted sausages, pork tenderloin and New Zealand lamb all done to perfection for our 30 or so guests. It was at this time as well that I was in the preliminary stages of putting the concept for “The Grateful Griller” together and now that I had a few years of hardcore grilling under my belt I was sure I had found my calling and wanted to pursue this passion for cooking/grilling with ceramics and to think I was getting some practice grilling for a Canadian legend in his own time, I was on cloud nine. Now back to the game!
As the slideshow concluded and the lights dimmed even more, that infamous announcers voice that we’ve heard a million, no a trillion times before over our tv’s came over the arena, Madames et Monsieurs and the place went BANANNA’S!!!!!!!! We jumped to our feet and I proceeded to sing our National Anthem in French and then in English like I have never sung it before because I was with my brother at a Habs and Leaf’s game in the province we grew up in as children, thinking about Mr. Carrier who wrote the best book on hockey ever written for children like my daughter and my brother’s kid’s, and by golly I grilled him dinner on “The Big Green Egg” back in 04, and now I have a business purely devoted to this kind of culinary experience! Breath, furthermore, it’s about how great it is to be Canadian and have passion so deep for something that means so much to so many and all this time I didn’t think I was a hockey fan, not any more!
The period’s flew by and by the third we were down by two but we hadn’t lost faith. I raced into the Habs shop and purchased not one but two hats, one for me and one for my daughter back home. Yes sir, if I was going down tonight I was going down with my team! As I raced back to my seat I had a chance to pick up a few final beers to ease the potential pain of dealing with a, dare I say it, loss tonight. I hadn’t been back in my seat for more than 30 seconds and the worst possible thing happened, the Leaf’s scored again to put what felt like the final stake right through the heart’s of every Hab fan in the house. Then the dreaded siren to end the game as if a WWII air raid were about to take place. It was over, “Les Boys” had been defeated on this night. Staying positive, I thought to myself, the battle was lost but the war is far from over.
As we left the Bell Centre I reflected on how fun it had been to see the game despite the result and couldn’t help but think about the end of my favorite hockey story that I have read to my daughter many, many times over the years. I am not a religious person and there are probably fifty churches within a five minute walk of the Bell Centre but on this night I kinda felt like paying one of them a visit as Mr Carrier wrote, to ask god to cast down a million moths to eat all the Maple Leaf jersey’s in Montreal that night. I looked at Hank and said let’s find a pub.
Find your passion and don’t forget friends, keep on grilling!
Fire, Smoke, Food,
The Grateful Griller