Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Couple heats passion in Dutch oven

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 7/16/2014

Cooking up a little competitive spirit can take a person far. For one Ottawa couple, it’s taken them across the country.

Matthew and Sandi Brandes — known competitively as the Black Pot Wizards of Oz — found their passion in Dutch ovens. The couple has won two Dutch oven cooking competitions in the past month, both of which were International Dutch Oven Society-sanctioned events, Matthew Brandes said.

Cooking up a little competitive spirit can take a person far. For one Ottawa couple, it’s taken them across the country.

Matthew and Sandi Brandes — known competitively as the Black Pot Wizards of Oz — found their passion in Dutch ovens. The couple has won two Dutch oven cooking competitions in the past month, both of which were International Dutch Oven Society-sanctioned events, Matthew Brandes said.

Dutch oven cooking involves a pot with a lid that uses an upturned lip at the edge of the lid to hold burning coals on the pot. The coals’ heat cooks the food underneath the lid, allowing a fully cooked meal without using electricity, Sandi Brandes said. For the IDOS-sanctioned events, a team must cook a main dish, usually with meat, a loaf of bread and a dessert. The Brandeses have crafted some tasty meals through the competition, they said, including a winning entry of stuffed elk wellington, black cherry chocolate swirl cheesecake and a creamy dill bread.

“It’s a very traditional way of cooking,” Matthew Brandes said.

After winning grand champion at the Missouri State Dutch Oven Championship Cook-off June 14 in Sarcoxie, Missouri, the Brandes couple then won another grand champion honor June 27 at the Buffalo River Elk Festival in Jasper, Arkansas. With the surprise of becoming a dominant force on the Dutch oven circuit, the Brandeses have taken their cooking talents to the national stage by attending the World Championship in Sandy, Utah, each March.

“It was an educational experience,” Matthew Brandes said of the National competition with a laugh. The couple did not account for the elevation difference between Utah and Kansas, which caused their cooking methods to take a hit.

“It’s a completely different experience than the one that will be here in Ottawa. We’ll go back since we qualified for 2015,” he said.

With the experience gained through several competitions and learning from the community of friends in which they found themselves, the Brandeses have decided to bring a competition to Ottawa. The couple is organizing the Sunflower Invitational Dutch Oven Cook-off for Aug. 2 at the Franklin County Fairgrounds, 17th and Elm streets, but is currently not open to the public. The lack of food for everyone to consume will be an issue for allowing the public, Sandi Brandes said. Teams are traveling from Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, Texas and Louisiana, she said.

“We’d like to do a separate event that is open to the public,” Matthew Brandes said. “We can try to do it with another event in Ottawa, maybe at the tractor show or the car show.”

The couple plans to search out ways to educate the people of Franklin County on their beloved hobby, but it won’t be this year, Matthew Brandes said. Eventually, if the Ottawa competition returns in the future, the couple hopes to open the Ottawa competition to a larger pool and the public to allow the local community to get involved, he said.

There are not many groups in Kansas that are active in the Dutch oven cooking community, he said. With the Ottawa competition coming, Brandes said he only knows of a few groups near Wichita that participate. Informing the community and possibly turning some local residents onto the activity would be a bonus, he said. The national event, which is not related to IDOS, moves around each year, Sandi Brandes said. The event will come to Kansas in 2018, possibly held at Clinton State Park in Lawrence.

“The only local group in Kansas right now is in Wichita,” Matthew Brandes said. “There is not any groups in Kansas City, Topeka or anything like that. Most of the people we know are from Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas. ... There could probably easily be an IDOS chapter up in this area, but no one has taken that on yet.”

The Brandeses discovered the passion while participating in another activity.

“We have a lot of hobbies, but one of our other hobbies is camping,” Matthew Brandes said. “We’d always do group breakfast, lunch and dinners with this camping group we went with, and several groups would use Dutch ovens. So we bought one just to participate.”

The couple continues to travel the country and compete in IDOS-sanctioned events because it brings together three of Sandi Brandes’s passions — cooking, traveling and meeting people.

“For me, it just sort of takes three of my passions,” Sandi said. “It takes a lot of work, but the bottom line is we do it because we enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun.”

The two plan to return to the national competition again in 2015, using past “educational experience” as reference to succeed, Matthew Brandes said.

“It’s an excuse to travel. It’s an excuse to meet people,” he said. “Who knows if we’ll still be doing it in 10 years? We might be doing something different. [Sandi] has always said once it’s not fun, she’s done ... so far it’s been really fun.”

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