The Road to Philly

Whenever any customer calls on us we’re happy, but when L. F. Driscoll calls on us I get real excited. I get excited because it mean going to Philadelphia and while I’m not really a big city kind of guy I really love Philly. Philly is easy to navigate and the overall attitude is good. NYC is a jungle, truly a jungle, whereas Philly is just city life without all the “jungle.”

So Driscoll called on me the first time back in November of 2010 while they were working on the now prestigious new art museum that house the Albert Barnes art collection. If you are not familiar with The Barnes Foundation I urge you to check it out. It is a great story of a man who had phenomenal success before and during the Great Depression. You do not have to be into art collecting to appreciate the story. So yes we did such a great job for Driscoll that two months later The Barnes Foundation called us back to the same location because they wanted to show love to the Driscoll workers and on January 20, 2011 in the middle of a horrible winter we performed an on-site pig roast at the Barnes construction site. We had a major snow storm the day before and the day after the event. But somehow by the grace of God it did not snow while I was there.

Then later in 2012 Driscoll called for me to cater a lunch for 200 people at the phase 1 project they had going at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Actually they were working under the museum and I catered the event without flaw in a huge vaulted hallway. This just drives home the fact that when I say “I have cooked just about everywhere you could imagine and then some.” Doing these kinds of catering jobs do not come without logistical challenges. The biggest challenge is getting the food there and setup on time. The workers are on a lunch break and not just hanging around. They need to eat and go back to work.

On Thursday May 25th I repeated the job at the Art Museum, Driscoll is back for phase 2 and they also had a safety meeting/lunch and they called on Have Pig Will Travel. Same location only this time we were just inside of the door at the rear of the museum. Watch the video to see the high lights of the day. It rained and the big challenge as always was the traffic.

Fire? (Not having any energy and not wanting any energy because that would mean work, )

Aquino Party 014

So it had been a long day. I was returning from a catering job in the city (New York City) the year 1999. I had been cooking in Long Island City and headed up the Major Deegan to the George Washington Bridge and back to Jersey… dirty Jersey. At this time I was still using the wooden side trailer that I had started out with in the beginning. I had a beautiful yellow sign on the back and when I would travel the highways it drew lots of attention and people would pass me in the fast lane honking and fist pumping. All the while, there I am driving, brain fried and dreaming of a hot shower and a bed. I have been up since 3:00am, cooking in an industrial area I had to put up with bums begging food, people trying to steal my trailer and the normal stuff like the heat of the day. I had roasted a pig and cooked 300 pieces of chicken on an open grill in a blacktop parking lot. So when people passed me and were fist pumping I really just wanted to shoot them. But today it was different, a lot of people were honking their horns and I just paid no mind. Sue was laughing and waving back at them.

As I headed west on route 80 and then onto route 287 south traffic started to ease up a bit and I was getting thirsty. I knew I had a few Snapples in the cooler that was in the back of the truck. My trusty Ford F-250, I loved that truck. So south of Morristown where the highway has a wide shoulder around the Harter Road exit I pulled over to get my Snapple. When I stopped I seen smoke coming from the pig roaster and this is normal because the coals are still burning when we leave the job. But the smoked smelled like burnt paint and the smoke very quickly gave way to flames as I noticed the floor of the trailer was on fire. Not having any energy and not wanting any energy because that would mean work, I nonchalantly said to my girlfriend Sue “the trailer is on fire.” Truly I was not worried because having been in the city I had two very large CO2 fire extinguishers, one smaller CO2 and I even had a 5lb dry chemical that was in the truck all the time. I had three large sheets of plywood lying flat under the roaster. You see when cooking in NYC the health dept. would not let me cook on the bare ground I had to put wood down.

I guess while traveling back up the Major Deegan and hitting these humongous pot holes the lid of the roaster popped open and a few hot coals fell on to the wood, then 60 mph down route 80 and… well now I have a fire. So I wrangled the big fire extinguisher, pulled the pin and started to put out the fire… and I did. Well I did until the next big rig went by and the gust of wind relit the fire. So I put it out again and then another truck went by. Now my fire extinguisher is empty. But not to worry I have more. And I used them all and still another truck would go by and it would relight. Oh wait a minute I have the dry-chem. It didn’t do the job and the fire relit. Oh… wait a minute I have a Halon extinguisher that will work on anything. Anything except a wood fire being fanned by passing trucks. The fire was under the pig roaster and hard to get too. Although the flames were getting higher I had to get the equipment of the trailer. I jumped into the trailer and started throwing everything to the shoulder of the road, and then I dragged the huge chicken grill out of the trailer and onto the shoulder of the highway. Then came the pig roaster and now the fire was really to the point that I pretty much knew I was losing my trailer.

So I had one last try… it was all or nothing. But then I see flashing lights as a trooper approaches quickly. I grab the cooler and throw all the water and ice and Snapple onto the main part of the fire. Then I scramble and grab all the bottles of Snapple and start opening them and dumping them on the fire as it finally dies. The trooper stands there just looking at me. After a long awkward silence he says “I guess you’re the guy we’re all looking for, we’ve been chasing you since Lodi.” They had received reports of a trailer fire and were looking for a big truck and trailer when in fact it was my truck & trailer. Then he called and cancelled the 5 fire departments that were in route. I told him there really wasn’t as much damage as I originally thought because what burned was mostly the plywood and only a small amount of the trailer floor (about a one foot circle). Then to my surprise he went to his car and removed his gun belt and upper uniform. He came back in a white t shirt and no hat and helped me load all the equipment back to my trailer. It only took the two of us about 15 minutes however as luck would have it the sun came out and was blazing, we were both drenched in sweat. He looks at the empty Snapple bottles and says “that would sure taste good about now.”

So after everything was loaded I was still expecting a citation for something… maybe improper load or creating a traffic hazard, something. He went to his car and returned in uniform and asked my name and where I was coming from and going to, he looked at my plate number on the truck and trailer and asked if everything was ok. I said “sure, but aren’t you going to cite me?” He smiled and said “your day has been bad enough, I hope it gets better.” And with that he walked back to his car and waited while I pulled away.

Of course this day went down in infamy as just another part of the now 20 year history of my crazy little catering business. I never knew the name of the trooper who helped me that day, but I sure was thankful. It was not the first time I had seen a New Jersey State Trooper do something like this, I had seen something very similar a few years earlier when a pile of lumber fell in the highway and the trooper joined in and helped remove the lumber so the traffic could flow again. However that driver did receive a ticket for improper load.

Hey, I have many stories from my 20 years of traveling and catering and meeting people. Thanks for reading and come back again.

Good Food & Memories (…I don’t do anything special.)

Good food and memories is pretty much what Have Pig Will Travel is all about. I never intended for it to be that way, but that’s the way it turned out. It really doesn’t matter whether it is a yearly customer or a one-time customer, either way the comments are the same. Many times I have met either a customer or guest from a party I catered over ten years ago and they’ll break into a story about “how memorable that day was.” They will talk about the festivities and at some point they will mention something about the roasted pig or ribs or something… They may talk about “the crispy skin” or the smell of the pig cooking that day and they get more excited as they talk about it.

I have had customers I cooked for years ago call me and say “thank god you’re still in business, because we’re planning our anniversary party this year and we want the same exact food we had at the wedding.” My reply “really?” And then they will go on to tell me how much people have talked about “the food” that was at our wedding, “you really were a big hit.”

Of course comments and stories like this touch my heart because in looking back on the road I have come down with this business I see a little bit different picture than I did the day I was cooking and working at their parties. Sure I know it is a wedding or mile stone birthday, but at the time I’m more consumed and concerned with things like meeting the serving time, the weather or stressed out because I had mechanical problems getting to the job and I’m worried about getting my rig back home. All the while I’m in the middle of “happy, happy, joy, joy” people having a party. But now in hindsight I see it differently. I see life long memories being created before my very eyes.

I have yearly customers and I have others who only call me when they’re having a special event. I had a customer who only called on me when each of his three children was graduating college. I have had people call me when the moved into a new house and years later when they moved away from that house. I used to have a yearly customer who rented a bed & breakfast every year for 25 family members. I have companies that call me every year for their annual picnic and they never get bored. In fact it is a huge coming together for all the employees and it helps boost company moral.

Here’s the best part… I don’t do anything special; I just do what I always do. We cook good fresh food and serve it on time. We don’t put on a special show, although for many it is something different. But seriously we just cook good ole down home food, we are not the fanciest, we just do what we do.

I have cooked for every kind of party I can think of and through taking pictures and video I remember a lot of them. Some of the most touching are;

“Cancer Free” party. A man threw a surprise party for his wife who was one year cancer free.

I catered an event in New York that I though was a normal party, but there were two fire helmets on the table with two pictures of an uncle & nephew who were lost on 9/11.

I catered a party for a small group of friends who made it out of the towers on 9/11.

I catered a mortgage burning party for two average working people.

Many welcome home parties for soldiers.

I catered a party for a young man who was having a party for his father to enjoy all his family and friends one last time because he was diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s.

I have catered a “Welcome to America” party for a family who brought members from South Africa.

These are just a few of the over one thousand events we have cooked at and were part of their wonderful memories.

One party I know I will not do any more and I will sadly miss, is the job I have done at the Elmwood Park VFW. They would bring the old vets out from the VA home and Commander Willie would let the party take place at his post. Commander Willie past away a few months back and the party is cancelled. Sure will miss seeing all those old dudes come out and listen to the old tunes and take they’re trip down memory lane as they have some good food and enjoy being with friends.

Good food & Memories.