Under the shade of a grove of trees south of the La Plata County Fairgrounds, six teams assembled with their chuck wagons on Saturday morning to prepare a traditional Western meal.
Two out-of-towners and four Four Corners locals competed in the 14th annual La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Association Chuck Wagon Cook-off as part of Durango Fiesta Days.
“This is great fun and great company. You spend the day with your friends, tell jokes, cook and eat good food,” said Kristie Carriker of Canyon Trails Ranch west of Cortez. “It is a lot of fun, and we look forward to coming every year.”
Carriker and her team have competed in the cook-off since 2010. This year, they prepared a dish of Green Chili Bacon Taters.
The teams cooked over an open fire, stirring cast iron kettles of pinto beans and apricots, and kneading dough. They swapped stories and jokes to pass the time while each preparing a meal for 80 people.
Each team was given the same locally-sourced ingredients to use in their dishes but could embellish them with extras such as jalapeños and green chile.
This year, they were provided with beef, bacon, dried pinto beans, potatoes and apricots for dessert.
“The only restrictions teams have is that whatever gets cooked has to be cooked here on site,” said Larry Zauberis, chairman of the Chuck Wagon Cook-off committee. “We restrict them from using pre-mixed things like cornmeal mix or cake mix. Everything must be prepared from scratch.”
Harry Baxstrom and the Poverty Flats team of Bayfield returned for their 14th year in the competition. Zauberis credits Baxstrom with founding the event.
“Harry cooked up this idea years ago, and we’ve been doing it every year since,” Zauberis said. “We use a portion of the profits to support scholarships for children of the Cattlemen’s Association who are interested in pursuing agriculture.”
Baxstrom praised the camaraderie of the event, crediting it with bringing him back year after year.
“It’s like a gathering of old friends. We cook, laugh and have a good time. I get to see a lot of my friends on this day,” Baxstrom said.
Montoya Cattle Co., helmed by Davin Montoya, placed first in three categories: Meat, bread and dessert.
The team’s Grilled Round, Cow Camp Sourdough Biscuits and Old-Fashioned Spice Cake with Sweet Glaze were a hit with the judges and the public.
“When it was all said and done, we only had a little bit of food left over,” Montoya said. “We go to have a good time. We get along with all of the cooks and enjoy educating the public on our rural heritage.”
Montoya and his family were born and raised in Hesperus and often use family heirlooms such as dishes and silverware when they compete.
“We’ve competed for several years. I really enjoy cooking and supporting the agriculture community,” Montoya said.