Seasons by the Sea: Food for the Masters

Charcoal-grilled beef tenderloin. Laura Donnelly Photos

For the last couple of years I have attended a lunch party organized by my friend Chris, to watch the final hours of the Masters tournament. It is testosterone-heavy with men who know their golf stuff. I am one of the few women in attendance, and I am, for sure, the only non-golfer. But I can cook with the best of ’em and they were all mightily impressed with my knowledge of Phil Mickelson’s commercial for Enbrel, in which he is able to make a grilled cheese sandwich for his daughter thanks to Enbrel’s psoriatic arthritis-easing abilities. But I digress. . . .

If I am making food for a sporting-event party it is fun to do some research on what is typically served, either regionally or specifically for the event. For instance, the Kentucky Derby is always mint juleps, pimento cheese, and “hot browns,” those open-faced turkey, tomato, bacon, cheese-sauce sandwiches associated with the state. For a Super Bowl party, along with the usual junk food, you’d want to choose foods representing a team’s state, like Philly cheesesteaks or Texas barbecue.

For the Masters tournament party I was in charge of dessert, so, through quantitative analysis, I came to the conclusion: Masculum hominum + sport = chocolate. I considered chocolate mousse, so rich, so retro, but this requires spoons and bowls, so I opted for chocolate espresso chews, light (ish) meringue cookies loaded with bittersweet chocolate, ground espresso, and toasted walnuts.

I had also planned to make “Mrs. Threadgill’s cheese wafers,” named after a dear neighbor in Texas long ago, but the weather in Augusta was menacing, thunderstorms creeping across the state, threatening to postpone the finish until Monday. Horrors! (Though no doubt more horrifying for the players, sponsors, and attendees than little me trying to finish my baking earlier than originally planned.) Would Tiger Woods have slept in his red shirt if the storm had postponed the finish?

Mrs. Threadgill’s cheese wafers use one cup flour, one cup Rice Krispies, one cup grated cheddar cheese, one stick softened butter, one teaspoon of salt, and as much cayenne pepper as you’d like. Mush it all into a dough, roll into little golf balls (!), flatten with a fork, and bake at 350 until golden brown, about 15 minutes. These are like a crunchy cracker version of pimento cheese, which is, for sure, one of the official foods of the Masters tournament, the Kentucky Derby, and Talladega Superspeedway races. In other words, it’s a Southern thang — fattening, salty, and addictive.

There are quite a few important sporting events coming up in April and May. There’s the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500, P.G.A. Championship, French Open, Ice Hockey World Championship, and the F.A. Cup in England, also known as the Football Association Challenge Cup.

Talladega Superspeedway chairman Grant Lynch definitely went to the Donald Trump Art of the Deal School of Exaggeration and Promotion. Of the tasty delights offered at the racetrack, he told jayski.com, “Not only are we Nascar’s Biggest and Baddest track when it comes to racing, but to compliment the on-track action, we have the most unique, mouth-watering concession items. ‘The Big One Meatball’ and ‘Talla-Mento Dogwich’ are incredibly large and creative. At Talladega, size matters, and these gigantic concession items, which are the most creative and delicious choices at any sporting event, are a huge hit with race fans.” He added that their “host of adult beverages are second to none.” All I could find on their menu, beverage-wise, was an Alabama Mule with extra-sugar syrup; Budweiser, and Miller beer.

“The Big One Meatball,” by the way, is an over-one-pound meatball beginning with mozzarella and pepper jack cheese in the center, surrounded by beef and barbecued pork, coated with more ground beef, breaded, deep fried, served with spaghetti strands on top as a garnish, and then inexplicably drizzled with sriracha sauce. Perhaps for ease of “movement”? The Talla-Mento is pimento cheese slathered on Texas toast with two split fried hot dogs. Oh, and some buffalo cheddar cheese sauce as well to gild the lily. Or the liver.

If the sophisticated foods of France are more to your liking, then perhaps champagne, pastries, crepes, fresh fruit, and croque monsieur sandwiches could be your party offerings for the French Open. At many soccer matches around the world you will find fans munching on sunflower and pumpkin seeds, various forms of sausages, and plenty of beer. You will never find peanuts in the shell at a car race, however. This is considered bad luck after peanut shells were found in the 1940s under the gas pedal of a crashed race car.

At Chris’s house, where everything was homemade, there was spicy pico de gallo to start, then Caesar salad, roast asparagus, baby new potatoes with rosemary, chicken with gravy, a ginger-and-garlic-crusted beef tenderloin grilled over charcoal, and chocolate espresso chews.

Every year at the Masters, the previous year’s winner gets to choose the menu for a dinner for all the champions. The first year Tiger Woods won (1997), he was only 21, and his food choices reflected that: milkshakes, cheeseburgers, french fries, and chicken sandwiches. Other winners’ choices range from toddler junk food (fajitas and confetti cake?) to foods representing their countries: haggis, paella, tres leches cake, asado, bobotie, wild boar, and panang curry.

Whether I care about a sporting event or not, I always do a few hours of research before watching it. This makes it more enjoyable, and I don’t sound like a complete numbskull muttonhead if I dare open my pie hole. But really, it’s always about the food for me, and an excuse to make something to go along with the momentous and exciting occasion.

Thank you to Chris, host with the most, and congratulations to Tiger Woods. Here’s hoping your fifth Masters championship dinner next April will be more sophisticated than the first!

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Cooper the dog says “please” to a garlic-and-ginger-crusted tenderloin set out for an afternoon of watching the Masters golf tournament.