From Chef to Whole hog apprentice

I have been cooking professionally in Toronto for the past 11 years. I have had the opportunity to work my way up the ranks of the culinary field in some of the best restaurants in Toronto. Now, the Chef at a busy downtown restaurant I have been at the helm for the last 3 and a half years, learning and growing each day.

But 2 years ago unknown to me, I became a whole hog apprentice by holding my cell phone light above a pig so the pit master could continue his work at Memphis in May World Championship BBQ 2013. I watched the master work his knife and saw with complete ease, trimming away just the right amount of fat and making sure every inch of the hog was given as much attention, care and detail as possible. I asked a few questions between cuts “Why do you name your pigs?” and “Why do you leave that piece of meat attached?” I found out that if you don’t give your whole hog a female name it is bad luck for you, the pig and your team. As for the reason he left the meat attached was because it turns out to be the perfect piece to serve to an onsite judge. Once all the prep for the hog was done my wife and I returned to our own site on the amateur side of the competition to close up for the night. Not knowing what else the master was doing to make such an incredible hog.

The whole hog from Memohis in May 2013

The whole hog by the master and his team at Memphis in May 2013

Fast-forward 1 year. Team Canada BBQ has been created, where I am now BBQ Chef for the team.  I return to Memphis in May World Championship BBQ 2014, an official apprentice to the master, Mike Callaghan, our Pit Master and one of the founders of the team.

During Memphis in May World Championship BBQ 2014, I could be more involved with the hogs than the previous year. Still as an apprentice, I was happy to watch and learn. I knew I didn’t have the skills yet to dive right in and start cutting with Mike. As a first year apprentice it was a great opportunity to work along side Mike and the other team members during the onsite judging process. As each judge was shown into our site, given the full story of our pigs, Mike and I would pull the finest pieces of meat out for the judge. We finished 12th place in the whole hog category at Memphis in May, as well as first place tomato BBQ sauce. My journey as an apprentice continued throughout the rest of the summer.

Our praying pig from Memphis in May 2014

Our praying pig by Team Canada BBQ at Memphis in May 2014

I know that learning the art of whole hog cooking is much like becoming a Chef. It takes years and years of hard work and dedication to learn the craft. You will have failures as well as successes, but at the end of the day you must love what you do to be able to spend long hours creating it.

Chef Sean Vodden

Chef Sean Vodden
Sean Vodden is the BBQ Chef for Team Canada BBQ, and one half of Uncle Richie's Hillbilly BBQ. Mixing BBQ with fine dinning is a true passion of Sean's.

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