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The Kid Can ‘Cue!

11/04/2014 07:53AM ● Published by Aimee Cormier

Gallery: Barbecue Grand Champion [5 Images] Click any image to expand.

By Michelle Matthews Calloway

When you look at 13-year-old Emily Trahan you see the quintessential Acadiana teenager. She has all-American good looks, is an honor roll student at Catholic High School in New Iberia, a member of the track team and has taken dance since she was two years old. Like other teenagers, the daughter of James and Kristine Trahan loves her pets (a dog named Cinnamon and two rabbits named Cookies and Cream) and enjoys hobbies including hunting, dancing, spending time with her parents and cooking. And there’s the rub, because Emily’s cooking “hobby” sets her heads and shoulders above her peers. She’s the Grand Champion of the American Royal’s 35th Annual World Series of Barbecue®!

An Early Start

“Emily got her start very early,” says her mom Kristine. Emily’s dad founded the James Trahan Refrigeration Cooking Team and has a number of barbecue cooking wins under his belt. James and Kristine recall Emily watching, attending and helping her dad from the ages of 2 through 8. In 2010 she turned to her dad and exclaimed, “I want to try cooking and entering contests!” 

Emily entered her first cook-off in 2010 at the age of 8, just a few months shy of her 9th birthday. In her first year of trying her hand at cooking competitions she won first place in barbecue competitions held in Slidell and Hammond, Louisiana. She was hooked from her first event and she’s never looked back.

Perfecting Her Skills

Emily’s reasoning for competing is straightforward. As she explains, “I love to barbeque! I also enjoy meeting new people, and traveling to different states with my family.” Emily has competed in contests around Louisiana and has traveled to compete in Huntsville, Ala. and Kansas City, Mo. Though she’s placed first in competitions for her chicken, Emily says steak is her favorite item to barbecue. “Everybody likes their steak different ways, so it allows me to be creative and challenges me.” 

In addition to barbecuing, Emily enjoys the culinary dishes germane to South Louisiana. She enjoys cooking crawfish étouffée, seafood gumbo and wild game including bacon-wrapped duck, elk and deer. She and her dad regularly practice what Emily calls “competition cooking.” She admits, “We practice often because my Dad says ‘practice makes perfect!’” Kristine concurs, “James and Emily practice a lot. Our relatives and neighbors love it – they get to taste test all the samples!”

Emily says her recipes have been handed down from her grandparents, Wayne and Linda Trahan. Emily and her dad work hard on perfecting the recipes, yet Emily says “timing and temperature” are the most challenging aspects. When asked if she prefers sauce or no sauce on her barbecue, Emily says hands-down she loves sauce. It’s a winning factor, and you guessed it – “I make my own secret sauce,” she says proudly.   

The Journey To 

International Grand Champion

From 2010 to 2014 Emily has competed in more than 20 cooking competitions, placing first in many of them. The highest point of her competitive career to date came in October of this year when she was crowned “Grand Champion” at American Royal’s 35th Annual World Series of Barbecue®. 

Hopefuls traveled from all over the world to compete in the international event. Each participant must have a professional champion as sponsor, indicative that the entrant has previously placed first in more than one competition. Emily’s sponsor for the World Series was none other than Johnny Triggs, known throughout cooking circles as the “Godfather of BBQ.” Triggs, who has appeared on the Destination America television show “BBQ Pitmasters,” is a celebrity chef and two-time Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational® Grand Champion. 

The American Royal competition featured 76 chefs, 29 of which were in Emily’s age group. She was given a New York strip to cook – and 45 minutes from start to finish. “Once we were done, we had to bring the steak up to the judges,” Emily says. The Food Network’s celebrity chef Guy Fieri served as the announcer and was one of many chefs walking around and viewing the proceedings. Undaunted, Emily focused on the task at hand. The competition awarded only three places: second runner-up, first runner-up and grand champion. “I was nervous when I didn’t hear my name announced for second or first,” Emily admits. “I knew there was only one more spot, and I would either win or I wouldn’t!”

James attended the invitational with Emily, but Kristine stayed at home. “I was just too nervous,” she laughs. Kristine says she stayed in church the entire time because it was the only way she “wouldn’t call every two minutes.” When recalling the moment her name was called as “Grand Champion,” Emily clasped her face in her hands and grinned widely. “I was so excited – and so happy!”

Emily was awarded an abundance of prizes from Weber®, the sponsor of her division. In addition to a new barbecue pit, she was awarded cooking essentials, gift cards, autographed cookbooks from celebrity barbecue chefs, autographed bottles of barbecue sauce from Guy Fieri and a number of other items.

Having Fun Is First

In two years Emily will have to move up and compete in the adult division, but she says she’s ready. Her dad will be able to cook on her team and both members of this future father-daughter team believe they are unstoppable. Despite her anticipation, Emily keeps her feet firmly planted on the ground and her father’s advice uppermost in her mind. “My dad says I’m already a winner,” she says quietly. “He tells me to try my best and always have fun!”

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