Cowboys and Chuckwagon Cooking made our foodie’s choice list of the top 50 Food Blogs of 2011. This blog was not on our radar, but we’re glad it made the list. As a city girl, I had never heard of chuckwagon cooking and this blog has opened up a facet of history and cooking I was not familiar with. This is a great blog for history buffs and foodies alike. If you have not read up on Cowboys and Chuckwagon, I suggest you do. In the mean time, read our interview with Roger, the brain responsible for this amazing blog. I’m positive you will make his blog daily reading from now on.
FriendsEAT: What inspired you to start “Cowboys and Chuckwagon Cooking”?
Roger: Shortly after a visit to the annual Ranch Hand Breakfast held by the legendary King Ranch, my son and I were intrigued with the chuck wagon cooking. I have long enjoyed cooking Barbecue, grilling and camp cooking but just never had the opportunity to cook from a Chuck wagon. As I researched information on the history of the cattle drives, I found many folks have a misconception about the life of those cowboys working the trails and the food they ate. As I shared emails with several friends, they began encouraging me to write about these events, including the people and the food.
FE: For those who are not familiar with your blog, how would you describe it?
Roger: It’s for people who enjoy wholesome food while hearing a great story as if sitting around the camp fire as you fill your cup with coffee. That’s just what we are trying to give our readers at Cowboys and Chuckwagon Cooking. Our site is an array of foods from the many influences of those who cooked during the cattle drives and later during ranch round-ups. Although, as our site grows, we talked about early medicines, the use of herbs, and also provide many stories of western cultural or reviews. Sometimes, the information is about history, sometimes about valor and often about food. Even the Good, the Bad and the Ugly had to eat, and while some chuckwagon cooks just threw what ever there was available all together, others developed the culinary art of excellent cowboy cooking.
FE: Do you consider the blog to be more on the historian side or culinary side?
Roger: I believe the blog to be a mix of history, modern day stories and the culinary art of cowboy cooking. Authentic cooking styles can not ignore the heritage of great foods, nor those culinary tools of our ancestors. Yes, in many ways, it is history, though searing a great steak hasn’t changed ever changed and is still done the way it was done 200 years ago when Vaqueros ran cattle to New Orleans. In many ways, the average American has forgotten how to make simple foods like biscuits as packing of ready made food does save time and microwave ovens have taken over. Our recipes can be cooked indoors or outdoors. However, our stove top is a camp fire and our oven is the cast iron Dutch Ovens. Cast iron cookware is also returning to many American kitchens growing with popularity.
FE: Why did you decide to dedicate yourself to blogging?
Roger: I have always enjoyed history and writing. Researching information is an exciting experience. However, meeting and interviewing wonderful people far surpasses excitement where we have share so many different stories about some marvelous people. Some of our interviews have been with Rodeo Queens from Australia to even an American Idol contestant. Sharing their story is rewarding and inspirational. I often find those who go after success against the odds which helps mentor many readers. Additionally, I am always adding more history of cowboy life or the great recipes which in many ways preserves the lifestyle of the romantic frontier of wide open space and the Cowboy way.
FE: What is a typical day in your life like?
Roger: I’m a Marine Specialist for the City of Corpus Christi. Retiring after 24 years of service with the US Navy, it’s difficult to give up living along the coastal and being on the water. South Texas allows me the best of these two worlds. I have the Texas country side to enjoy being a cowboy while having the coast to enjoy a second career here along the Gulf of Mexico. My family also loves salt water fishing and we enjoy outdoor cooking. When not working at my full time career, or play, I’m writing a new story, researching the internet or calling on subject experts. Although while I find myself busy, I am never too busy to stop and talk, assist someone with research, answer an email or assisting my son with school projects.
FE: How do you come up with the recipes?
Roger: Many of the recipes are historically authentic to the cattle drives. Other recipes have been handed down from one generation to the next or often shared from friends. Occasionally, we might add our own twist to improve a particular taste or enhance a new flavor.
FE: Who was/is your biggest culinary inspiration?
Roger: My wife is such a fabulous cook who enjoys preparing gourmet meals with such magnificent flavor. She seems to have such a natural talent cooking anything with greatness. My mother in law also lives with us, where between the two, our television seems to have every food show recorded on our TIVO. I grew up watching Justin Wilson Cajun Cooking, which grew into watching Emeril Lagasse. Now the wife has me enjoying Rachael Ray to Paula Dean.
FE: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting a food blog?
Roger: Write about the things they know and share a passion towards. While I would like too believe I have a good personality, I see when I am using a more informative writing style, it seems to draw less attention or feedback than when I use a more open humor style but always come across friendly. I believe they would get better results. I would also caution them on advertisements that they allow on their blog. Some blogs seem to try to promote links rather than good information and people will not likely be back.
FE: Do you do everything for the blog yourself or do you have someone to help you?
Roger: I write just about everything on my own, although I have had a few shared stories where I will indicate credits towards a story. I do get lots of help with photos or authorization to use a photo and then mention it too. My son is always at my side cooking, but as a 14 year old, he questions me, “Dad, why do you enjoy doing so many essays.” Oddly, I didn’t enjoy writing essays in school either but today, I don’t see the stories as an essay even when they are informative. I do most of our social media, but several fans along with my wife twitter my stories and on several occasions been provided press kits to promote or share event information.
FE: How do you balance it all, family, blog, garden and free lance writing?
Roger: Since the Texas drought this past year, our garden suffered dearly. One almost wants to just give up, or let the ground just dry up, but then I’d feel guilty. The same emotion comes to me if I don’t jump right on a story. So I find myself juggling for that balance often asking should I use more positive motivation speaker (Zig Ziggler’s “Get around Too-It”) or the expert wisdom of (Doctor William Edwards Deming) success on time management, because if your blog is active, you do need to stay on top of it but you also do not want it to wear on the other things in life, such as work, family and taking time for yourself. One needs to harmonize your day limiting over amounts of distractions and stay focus. I’m even a student to my own preaching.
FE: How would you describe Cowboys and Chuckwagon cuisine?
Roger: The working cowboy surely ate mostly beans and biscuits while on the long cattle drives. However, those early cooks who hired on working the cattle drives came from many walks of life. At Cowboys and Chuckwagon Cooking we look into those influences that developed the great food styles today called Tex-Mex, Southwest cuisine, Cajun, Southern, Barbecue or Soul food and how they interrelate. These early pioneers had been influenced by several cultures including Native Americans, African American and European influences that hub from Texas as the cowboys moved over 10 million head of cattle north to market.
FE: What has been the most exciting thing that has happened as a result of you starting “Cowboys and Chuckwagon”?
Roger: The level of so many new friends is sincerely unimaginative. We also have received a good deal of recognition, including from Friends Eat which is very exciting. However, I think when you get an email from a person asking for assistance and you are able to help them achieve greatness, or merely accomplish their goal, that is perhaps the greatest reward of excitement.
FE: If I came to visit you, what or where would we eat?
Roger: South Texas offers such a range of superb cuisines. Although, giving the opportunity, I’d seat you first at our home to enjoy the outdoor atmosphere with the open camp fire near the chuckwagon. As the sun sets, we would start with an array of Mexican appetizers including Antojitos, Salsa, Ceviche, Deep fried Pickles, Guacamole and home made Corn Chips. A wine selection from Texas South Wind Vineyard, Ice Tea and Ziegenbock. Rack of Wild Javelina ribs for entree with sides of Red Cabbage Coleslaw, Cactus-Potato Salad, Roasted Corn, with Sourdough bread with mince garlic butter spread and Texas caviar. Then to top off with dessert would be Coffee-Peach Cobbler with a scoop of Blue Bell Ice Cream and glazed with Sabroso.
FE: And your favorite ingredient to cook with?
Roger: Bacon: It provides such deep flavoring but then everything taste better with bacon.
FE: How do you feel about Food entertainment?
Roger: My, hasn’t it grown. Food once was just a 1/2 hour program a few days a week and a recipe here or there in a magazine. Today, it’s the mainstream of many magazines, a library of cookbooks and several TV networks which cater to the food junkie in all of us. Food network has been amazing too providing so many great programs from simple country cooking to complex gourmet cuisines. Perhaps the most exciting part of food entertainment is the amount a great talent from wholesome ranch cooking to the highest skilled culinary chef. I just simply enjoy it since food competition is no longer the church gathering judging mom’s apple pie. Today it’s filled with competitions with the American Chuck Wagon Association, Dutch Oven Society, Secret Ingredients, Top Chef, Chopped and that list goes on and on and on. And the great part about it, there’s still room left for dessert and more food entertainment.
FE: If I say tortilla, you say?
Roger: Corn or Flour? We can stir up some superb dishes with the tortillas. Corn tortillas make a great snack food but they can be added into soups, used for tacos, and so many other delightful treats for our palate while flour tortillas can start off as part of your breakfast rolled with egg and Chorizo, or made into Nachos, Queso, Fajitas or fried into a bowl shape filled with Ceviche to make an excellent seafood salad.
FE: Where do you see food blogging in five years?
Roger: Food blogging is growing day by the day. I think as the popularity of food continues to grow, consumers will continue wanting to learn more. Plus, the fans of the many TV Food Host are wanting more and more of our favorite chefs and critics. Bloggers seem to be a bit more personal and often more available for comments, questions or suggestions unlike reading a book where the author does not have that interaction ability. I believe it will surely double in size and highly believe us bloggers will need to add more art form into our blogs such as video media.
FE: And where do you see “Cowboys and Chuckwagon” in ten?
Roger: I hope we continue to grow in popularity. I had many goals for the site and a large list of information that will all be added to our site with video demos with my favorite side kick, my son Austin who I’d would be proud to turn the reins over too in time.
FE: What do you see as the most important issue facing foodies today?
Roger: Is the information I’m writing reliable. Too often we read something which is generally the view of the writer. As readers, we take what is written as fact but sometimes it is merely opinion. Many food blogs are writing about healthy foods but are not health experts. As a writer, I have to step on each side of the fence, ask more than one source about questions or information I’m gathering because getting it right the first time is important. Additionally, write from your heart whether it is a warm heart or cold, be yourself. The world will test you and who you are will eventually come out. If you build fans on who you are not, they will likely not be there for you later unless your name is Charlie Sheen.
You can also keep up with Roger on his facebook page.