I met Danielle Dimovski in 2014 at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas. Danielle is a pitmaster with a lot of wins under her belt and is also the host of her own TV show on the Travel Channel called BBQ Crawl, now in it’s third season. She was kind enough to do a phone interview with me earlier in 2015.
Q: I watched you last night on BBQ Crawl and noticed you were in Los Angeles at one of my best friend’s cousin’s BBQ resto, Boneyard Bistro, with Aaron Robins.
A: I actually have the tattoo. One of the things people may not know about me is that right after that episode, Aaron and I, we just hit it off and I was in the process of looking for a new tattoo, I like tattoos a lot. And I actually have the logo for Boneyard Bistro tattooed on my right arm. The food was phenomenal and the environment there is quite lovely.
Q: Tell me a bit about who you were before all this ‘Que madness started.
A: I was actually an HR Operations Manager for a large retail organization. I have a diploma in marketing and a diploma in human resources. I did that 10 yrs corporately for them. Then I stayed home for 20 yrs with the children. Then I proceeded to judge a BBQ contest and got hooked and that’s what got me started on my BBQ journey.
Q: So you judged your first contest and then went out and bought a rig to compete? That’s kind of a process usually, right?
A: Well, I didn’t buy a rig at first. I borrowed my Dad’s trailer and used tarps and just came in and did as well as I could with the equipment I had. It wasn’t until a few years later that I bought my first cart and trailer. About a year and a half ago I bought my first custom porch trailer and that’s kind of a recent and new development. It’s been quite the ongoing growth and ongoing process of continuing what I know about BBQ, trying to take in as much knowledge about it as I can certainly traveling to experience as much BBQ as I can.
Q: How many years you been doing this now?
A: It’s coming up on my 10th year.
Q: When I met you at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas last year, that was quite a competition, what did you think about that?
A: Well, I’m a huge fan of the WFC and I’m actually one of the head final table judges this year with the WFC being held in Kissammee, Florida this year. I was really impressed with the format. I like the fact that it’s on a world stage, multitudes of categories. I like food competitions, I like food period in all aspects, how about that. So, I loved the entire experience.
Q: I hope this isn’t a typical question, but being a woman, I wonder what kind of challenges you face as a woman in the competition world. It’s sort of a good ole boys club.
A: Well, I think one of the things I face as a woman, is that I had a lot more challenges when I first started. What comes with time is respect. I’ve done my homework and I’ve paid my dues with research and really going out there and giving it my all. There are still some challenges. There are still times when I walk into some stores and people won’t talk to me about BBQ. They ask, ‘Is this for your husband or your boyfriend.” So that kind of stuff still really annoys me still to this day. I don’t like that. There are some things like when you’re teaching and someone doesn’t believe you because you’re a woman. That annoys me. Usually that’s pretty far and in between now. After all the years I’ve been doing this, there’s all that…I’ve paid my dues, I’ve got lots of awards, I’ve got lots of cred, I’ve got lots of knowledge and I’m not even close to scratching the surface in my own personal opinion. But I do believe that’s it’s slowly, very slowly evolving and changing. And one of the things about any woman in any hospitality situation, is that it a lot of times it has been a good old boys club. But I do believe that a lot of food TV has helped change the perspective of that. I do believe that has allowed more women to be seen in a more positive light culinary wise. At the end of the day, I want to be judged on my skill set, my aptitudes, my abilities and not because of my gender. I don’t care if somebody is a woman or a man, I just judge them on….is it a culinary situation? Or what is their credibility? Are they adequately trained? Or have they done enough to do the job that they’re doing? I don’t tend to judge anybody in this world based on their gender, I judge them on a variety of other things. You know…their ability to be a kind person, a compassionate person. There are a lot more factors to me that are more important.
Q: I’m a drummer, so I’ve always been asked, “what’s it like to be a female drummer?” I’ve always hated that and here I am asking you that question, because no matter what we do, it’s part of society and I’m constantly trying to break down those gender barriers.
A: I think that happens, like you said, a lot in life and not in the stage of where are you all at and what your occupation is, It happens a lot in life because you are judged according to a different standard. My soon-to-be ex husband is raising our kids in Ontario and I fly them back in and out. It makes sense because I’m on the road all the time. And so, I get judged on that. I get judged on a lot of things. And you can understand this too because at the end of the day, if I was a guy that did that, nobody would ever question it. As a female, I get asked, “why are you doing that?” If I was a guy you wouldn’t be asking this! I’ve never, ever fit into somebody’s ideal box of ideology on females. Much like yourself, I’ve beat my own drum, figuratively.
Q: Do you see any regional prejudices when you travel in relation to women in BBQ?
A: No. As a matter of fact, no matter where I go, it’s the same. I’ve usually been able to temper it. At the end of the day, my personality is pretty tough. I kind of take my lumps and bumps as they come. I haven’t really found any regional differences or prejudices, it’s the same format wherever you go.
Q: When I was at the WFC, the night before the comp, they had tasting samples for everyone. (side note: in competition, we are double blind tasting, so we never know who we’re sampling from) and I was blown away that my two favorite ribs were from Canada (Diva Q) and from the U.K. How is that possible? None of my faves were from the U.S.!
A: At the end of the day, if we’re talking Southern or traditional style BBQ, America’s got quite a lead on us. That’s the country where it originated. If you ask me what the type of competition is in Canada, I think the Canadians are playing it very distinct, strong, new, virtually going forward. For example, the British BBQ Society has done extraordinarily well in International events. Canadians have been extraordinarily well represented in any contest that they enter in the U.S. For just a small percentage of Canadians, we’ve done extremely, extremely well. So, I think we have a very serious focus on competition. Then there’s the other side, the everyday BBQ restaurants and joints, there’s not a lot of that in Canada. There’s not a lot outside of the U.S. They’re coming up slowly and surely, it’s nice to see the growth because I think that’s exactly what it is, it’s an entire area of growth right now, for all of those things.
Q: When you see the growth of BBQ here, you have to wonder what is going on? In Los Angeles now, you have several great places and even here in San Diego, we have 6 new BBQ places opening in the last few months. I’ve always considered BBQ was sort of a cultish genre, but had now expanded into the mainstream. What do you attribute this to?
A: Well, one thing about BBQ, it crosses every socio-economic path and platform. That’s key, right there. It doesn’t matter. You can have a $3000 grill, you can have a $20 grill, you can still make BBQ. That means its got general appeal, general mass appeal translates into dollars, dollars translates into, all of a sudden, chefs are noticing, “hey, what if I add a little smoke to this, what if I introduce something in BBQ or grilling?” Their menus are certainly reflecting that all over the country, all over North America in fact. Then you combine that with whenever there is comfort food on the menu, it’s attractive. At the end of the day, BBQ is the ultimate comfort food, it is attractive to everybody. Because everybody has those memories of grilling at the beach, or doing something in the backyard with their friends or having a great picnic. So, the mass appeal of it translates into dollars, it’s simple math at that point. You find something that has mass appeal, you sell more. And that’s exactly what BBQ is doing.
Q: I saw that you wrote in one of your blogs, how disappointing it was to work so hard on your product at a competition and you know how good it was, only to get low scores. As you know, we’re taught as judges that it comes down to personal taste, even though we’re given several guidelines. Do you think anything can be done to standardize this in comps?
A: It’s one of those things. It’s always on the back burner, the unknown factor. At the end of the day, I don’t think there’s ever going to be a simple solution, period. Because what I look for, is that I’m proud when I close that last box on brisket, it’s the last category of the day, I say, I felt I did my best today, it doesn’t really matter what the judges say at that point. I mean, it’s nice for a check, it’s nice for everything. It’s just unbelievable to me, sometimes you do turn in your best, and it just isn’t given those scores. Sometimes I’m just turning in crap and it’s gotten a call! There’s no accounting for it. I do my best every time and I think everyone else does the same.
You can check out Danielle’s web site and some great recipes here….