There is a new addition to the family. It's not a new server or bartender. It's not a new flat-screen HD TV. It's not even a new draught beer selection.
No, this new addition is a 2,500-pound, stainless steel bohemoth, that kicks out fragrances so amazing, you'll think you've died and gone to "Hog Heaven."
About two months ago, the restaurant began renting a barbecue pit and smoker, called "Old Hickory" from Gene Goycochea, a legend in the professional barbecue circuit. The unit has allowed them to add barbecue items to their menu, and has become the focal point to some of the restaurant's most popular dishes.
"Essentially, we’re trying to use the smoker for the best of its abilities. We want to have fresh BBQ all the time," said co-owner Shawn Walchef. We are working at really featuring it Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays for NFL football. But we are BBQing every day. People have been loving the tri-tip sandwich."
Other popular new items are the Chris Ello’s Pulled Pork Sando, and the slow-roasted baby back ribs.
"The ribs have been a hit. And the baked beans, which are one of Gene’s secret recipe are amazing,” Walchef said.
Old Hickory has 15 rotisserie shelves, and has a capacity to cook from 750-1,000 pounds of meat at once.
Walchef, and chef Tommy House first met Goycochea three years ago at the Viejas Smokin' in the Park barbecue event. At the time, they were just interested in finding out how to better prepare barbecue dishes. But their relationship with Goycochea grew, and he offered to help become their "barbecue coach" in a sense, giving recipes to House and schooling the guys on techniques, seasonings and rubs, and other tips for world-class 'cue.
Goycochea is one of the foremost experts on barbecue in the country. He sits on the boards of the three largest barbecue associations in the country: The Kansas City Barbecue Society, the National Barbecue Association, and the California Barbecue Association.
"You can’t really quantify that knowledge and those recipes," said Walchef.
Wanting to share that knowledge with the Spring Valley community, Cali Comfort will host a , taught by Goycochea, on Saturday, Sept. 17, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The class will include instruction on techniques, heating methods, cooking times and seasonings for chicken, ribs, tri-tip, and pork and beef brisket. The cost of the class is $95, and includes all of the cooking materials needed for the day, a BBQ certificate of compeltion, and delicious BBQ meal including a non-alcoholic drink.
"As a restaurant, we’d never been in a pro competition. There’s so many rules and tips and techniques," said Walchef. "Those are things you learn as you go. And those are the things that [Gene] will be teaching anyone interested in competing or just interested in learning about barbecue. It’s a science.”
Goycochea begain his journey into the world of barbecue in the mid-1980s. He purchased his own barbecue pit, but soon realized the quality was far from what he had been eating during work-related road trips to Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
"[My cooker] was garbage," he admits. "I talked to the guys at a restaurant I always visited in Fort Hood, Texas, and said 'you’re BBQ is great. Mine sucks. What am I doing wrong?'”
He helped them out with a competition that same weekend, and was instantly hooked. From there, he upgraded his pit, buying a $6,000 unit. Weeks later, he upgraded again, purchasing a $12,000 unit that would sell for around $25,000 today.
Goycochea now has about 35 different cookers, including four units like the one at Cali Comfort. He has gone on to become one of the foremost experts in the field, and has won barbecue competitions all over the country, and the world.
“I just loved it, loved the food,” he said. The competition circuit is a very friendly crowd. If you don't have brisket, someone will give you brisket. If you need equipment, someone will loan it to you. I enjoy the comraderie as much as the food."
As the Cali Comfort crew has been more educated about the craft of proper barbecue, it has been reflected by their customers responses.
"It’s been a whole different world," said House. "Before I was just kinda making it up as I went along, and now I have experience and a coach. It’s just a whole new world of BBQ that has opened up."
Walchef said that the ribs have been especially popular. (Full disclosure: I've had them, and can attest to their deliciousness.)
"Whenever we bring them out to one of the regulars at the bar, pretty soon, more and more people are ordering them," he said.
Goycochea is working hard to help expand Cali Comfort's reputation when it comes to barbecue.
"Hopefully, this will turn into a barbecue destination soon, where people will come from out of town to eat barbecue," he said.
"We've been so lucky to have Gene in our corner, since he pretty much runs the BBQ world," Walchef said. "He’s a big advocate of BBQ on all levels, professional and amateur.”
The restaurant is gearing up for the , which will be Sunday, Oct. 16. After a successful first edition last year, organizers are hoping for an even bigger turnout in 2011. Proceeds from the BBQ competition will benefit youth sports in Spring Valley.
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