Pandemic-fueled spam jokes trigger eccentric cowboy cooking
A running joke that arose in a Haysville church during the COVID-19 lockdown became the inspiration for a cooking contest featuring America’s favorite – or least favorite – canned meat.
It all started last spring at the onset of the COVID pandemic when churches, businesses and schools were closed to flatten the trajectory of increasing coronavirus cases. Pastor Chris Bray of Prairie Trail Cowboys Church in Haysville has started a weekly live question-and-answer session to stay in touch with its devotees.
“It was getting pretty heavy one night,” he said. “There really was no end in sight, it was pretty dark.”
And that’s where he turned the pandemic into a Spamdemic.
“For some reason the pantry door was open and there was a spam box,” he says. “So I just went and grabbed it and put it in front of the camera and said, ‘You know, we’re going to talk about it.’
“I was like this was about as controversial as anything you can get. Either you love him or you hate him. “
Spam turned out to be a surprisingly popular topic and continued to be discussed week after week.
“It became that running joke and the next thing you know, I started doing anti-spam cooking demos during this Q&A livestream,” he said. “I have this apron now that has spam all over it.
“We even have a mascot on the pulpit, it’s a bit crazy. It’s a spam box with arms and legs. We call it Spammy. It’s some kind of stuffed animal that someone found somewhere.
This led to the idea for the church to host an anti-spam kitchen for the congregation and the community.
“Spam has become, it’s kind of that outlet for us, I guess,” Bray said.
But if you want to establish any credibility in the larger world of spam attacks, (reporter note: I checked and there is in fact such a thing) you are not doing any old type of anti-spam cooking.
Enter Bonnie Boys, Cowboy Church Parishioner.
She is an experienced judge for major barbecues hosted by the Kansas City Barbecue Society and has agreed to coordinate the church’s Spam-a-rama.
Since this is an inaugural event, there really is only one unbreakable rule this year. You can pre-prepare your ingredients, but all cooking must be done on site. Grill, pellet smoker, burner or griddle, it’s your choice, the boys say.
Judging will follow the procedures you may have seen on TV barbecue shows. Culinary creations will be submitted in identical style boxes and contestants will choose a number to randomize the entries, so the six judges will not know who they are rating spam cooking for.
Although COVID has slowed down, it’s not over yet and still casts some sort of shadow over the contest. The cook-off takes place outside, mask optional, and the competitor’s stands will be set up for the sake of social distancing.
For safety in the event of a pandemic, there will be no à la carte sampling. Any informal sharing belongs to the individual applicants. It’s not encouraged, but neither is it, Boys said.
“We told the attendees that if they wanted to share their cooking with others, we didn’t care,” she said. “It’s up to them to decide as long as they follow the COVID guidelines, wear gloves and things like that.”
The boys said she had heard of some exotic food spam that people were thinking about.
“Yesterday I had a man who lived in Hawaii and if you know anything about Hawaii it’s spam country,” she said. “And so he brings up a recipe that almost looks like a spam sandwich and is wrapped in seaweed.”
He might be on to something. Called Spam Musubi, it’s a variation of sushi that’s a popular snack in the islands and a 4 1/2 star recipe on spam.com.
“I know we’re going to see jambalaya, I know we’re going to see mac and cheese,” she said. “There is an anti-spam monkey bread someone could try.”
Just in case watching people cook spam for a few hours isn’t as entertaining as it sounds, the church will also be hosting lawn games for adults and children, she said.
She agrees with her pastor that the church’s fixation on spam has helped uplift her people through difficult times.
“We had so much fun with it,” she says. “It kind of baffled us, you know, the closures and everything. It made people laugh through it all and I think that’s a good thing.
But contrary to Bray’s belief that spam is a thing of love or hate, Boys is like Switzerland when it comes to the endless argument over whether it is a delicacy or of an atrocity.
In fact, she doesn’t remember tasting it until she took on the job of preparation coordinator.
“I’ll be honest, I haven’t eaten a lot of spam so I can’t tell you,” she says. “But I’m getting there, okay?”
The cooking contest will be held May 15 at the church, 8552 S Broadway St., Haysville. Cooking begins at 9 a.m. with judgment at 11 a.m.
Aspiring chefs can register online at www.eventbrite.com.
The cost of attendance is $ 15 for church members and $ 30 for non-members, with a $ 5 discount if payment is made before April 1.