Traveling America from the Stadium Parking Lot

It is 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday, three hours before kickoff between the New England Revolution and Philadelphia Union soccer match at Gillette Stadium. As I pull into my parking spot in Lot 4, I’m greeted by my friends who have already begun setting up our tailgate behind their car. I start unloading the pristinely packed trunk of my 1997 Mercury Grand Marquis, setting up my small, $30 grill on the folding table.

I add ice in the cooler to keep the beer and food cold. From my trunk, I take out the supply bin and my folding chair before connecting the small, green propane tank to my grill. I’m ready to light up as the aroma of smoke and charred meat fills the air.

“You got the tongs and stuff,” my friend John asked as he lit his grill.

“Yup right here!” I said. “Toss me the gloves and that lighter.”

“By the way, what did you bring for food? I never checked the group chat,” said John.

“I’m making Philly cheesesteak sliders.”

John looked perplexed. “Wait, aren’t we playing Philly tonight.”

I responded: “Exactly. We’re gonna’ eat the opponent!”

The first thing I did after learning the New England Revolution schedule for this season was create a list of food items from the opponents’ cities or areas of the country to make at tailgates before games. Not only is this a chance to embrace the American culture, but it also metaphorically provides the opportunity to eat the opponent.

Now while it might sound a little odd, I do have to admit the idea for eating the opponent before games is not original. I got the idea from a Superfan at Boston College football tailgates who would grill up just about anything all depending on the opponent that day.

When the UNC Tarheels came to town, he cooked up ram. When the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets visited: honey and peaches. When the Florida State Seminoles, no we did not engage in cannibalism but rather a more practical option: alligator meat.

So for Revolution tailgates, I’ve employed a similar routine for tailgates. For example, this season, our match against the New York Red Bulls featured all the steak one could want. Just like when the Revs faced the Philadelphia Union in late July, heaping helpings of cheesesteak sliders filled everyone’s plate.

Some people see grilling as a chore. Others see grilling as an escape. For me, it is not only a passion, it is a way to express my own creativity and desire to travel this great country through cooking. I have always wanted to travel throughout the United States. So rather than spending $2,000 on an extensive vacation, I figured a wiser investment would be a paltry $20 on food.

Food has long been a passion of mine. Ever since I was two years old, I’ve developed a love for cooking. I always in the kitchen helping my mom or grandmother make dinner. My mom bought me a junior cookbook, a chef’s apron, and other cooking supplies when I turned 10 because that’s what I asked for.

When I got older, I would help my dad do the grilling during the summer and at football tailgates. The older I got, the more I helped. And the more I wanted to expand my horizons. I was always challenging myself to try new recipes or techniques, going as far as imitating the Food Network show Chopped in my own kitchen.

In continuing to improve my cooking ability and allowing my passion for grilling to grow, it has unlocked the world for me. I can now get Kansas City style ribs from my own back patio and Philly cheesesteaks from a stadium parking lot.

So when it came time to actually make the Philly cheesesteak, John and the rest of my friends were shocked to see me pulling out a deli bag of roast beef and Hawaiian rolls. That was nothing, however, compared to the shock they experienced when they took a bite out of the finished product. The compliments were endless, so much so that they insisted I make the delicacy every game.

While Philly cheesesteak might not be ‘outside the box’, in a game earlier this season against Houston, I tested myself by making Chili Burgers. And no, it wasn’t just canned chili poured on top of a burger.

Just like making chili, I seasoned the ground beef in a bowl, added onions, and made quarter pound portions. For buns, I pre-baked corn bread and threw the pan on the grill to warm it up. The finished product: a Texas-style chili burger on corn bread.

Given it was a cold day, the burgers didn’t do well sitting around in the blustery parking lot, but it was definitely a foray into and a twist on Houston cuisine. Like traveling to Texas from the chilly confines of the New England spring.

At the tailgate lot, I’m not the only one who likes to try new, different, or outrageous things at tailgates. A friend of mine, Peter, always does Cajun style cuisine. Although there are no opponents in Major League Soccer from that region, it’s still a way to bring New Orleans to New England.

His shrimp skewers and pork ribs are a specialty and I look forward to trying one every game. We’ve even traded a few pointers, including sharing recipes for a common dish we make: jalapeno poppers.

While Peter cuts his jalapenos lengthwise, I do it a little differently. For Christmas last year, I received a jalapeno popper grill rack. The kit came equipped with a recipe and a coring tool to get the seed out of the pepper. I simply cut off the top, core the pepper, then put the cream cheese, bacon, and cheddar filling in a squeeze bag to fill the jalapeno, and then top it with panko bread crumbs. After 5-10 minutes on the grill, they’re done perfectly.

Even Peter admits to me that my version tops his by a longshot.

So with a bunch of tailgates coming up for the remainder of the season, John and the rest of my friends are already looking forward to the next recipe I come up with. And with three games against Canadian opponents on the horizon, it’s an opportunity to extend my cooking arsenal internationally. And you can expect Canadian bacon, maple glazed sausage and poutine to be on the menu.

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