Like many 9-year-olds, Emerald Richards thinks she already knows what she wants to do for a living.
“I want to be a cook, maybe a veterinarian. Or a paleontologist,” she said.
Unlike many 9-year-olds, though, Emerald, of Louisburg, has already begun one of her careers.
She’s a cook – an award-winning cook, she’ll tell you – who sells her own sauce. Its slogan, she said, is “a little sweet, a little heat.”
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Richards entered her barbecue chicken in the barbecue contest at the Hot Pick’n Finger Lick’n BBQ and Bands festival sponsored by the Rolesville Chamber of Commerce Saturday.
Veterans of the 5-year-old event surmised that weather forecasters spooked many residents with predictions of a daylong downpour, keeping attendance lower than usual.
The several hundred residents who showed up throughout the day – there was a light shower that lasted about two minutes – enjoyed bands and solo performers, a hot dog-eating contest, vendors, constant train rides conducted by Mayor Frank Eagles and a womanless beauty pageant.
The less said about the potentially nightmare-inducing contestants in the womanless pageant, the better.
Emerald Richards’ father, Tracy, and she approached the judges’ table where sat two of us judges of the barbecue contest. The votes had been tallied, but I think we were still semicomatose from eating and judging 20 contestants’ chopped pork, ribs and chicken and thus couldn’t move.
You’re right: Judging barbecue and chicken sounds like heaven, but it’s not – at least not after the 12th plate. (Yes, plate: No one told me until then that as a judge you are supposed to merely sample the food from each contestant, not eat the entire plateful. Silly me.)
When Emerald started talking so passionately about cooking, I asked if I could talk to her for a possible story.
Sure, she said, “But two newspapers beat you to me.”
No wonder. “I just like to cook,” she said. “I’ve been cooking since I was 4.” She mentioned the secret sauce that makes her chicken distinctive.
Sensing a scoop, I employed a veteran journalist’s trick. “What,” I asked, “goes into your secret sauce”?
“It’s a secret,” she said.
Drats. Foiled again. Whatever goes into it, her sauce is a hit: She said she sold out of it at the festival.
The festival was a hit, too, as it has been from the first one five years ago. “We were trying to come up with a way to get people to Rolesville to help the economy, and someone came up with the idea for a barbecue,” said Jennie Rowe, president of the Chamber of Commerce.
The first year, she said, “We had 10 cooks and no vendors. We sold barbecue from 11 to six. We allowed for 500 plates, but we had to go to local barbecue places and we bought barbecue four times. We ended up selling about 1,500 plates, so we knew it was a good idea. Then, we added the music, the vendors... and it’s just grown.”
Rowe cited the weather forecast and the Farm Aid concert featuring Willie Nelson and his pals for causing final attendance figures to be “not quite what we wanted. I guess we had about 2,000 people” this year, Rowe said. “That’s about the same as last year, but we wanted more.”
Upon receiving an invitation to be a judge at a barbecue contest, my first thought was “Boy, they must really like me.”
After either the fourth plate of ribs or the third plate of chopped ’cue, though, that thought became “Boy, they must really hate me.”
When I regained consciousness, there was still the chicken category remaining.
Regardless of what prompted the invitation, overdosing on the ribs and consuming seemingly every part of the pig except the oink has caused a lifestyle change: I’m vowing right now to become a vegetarian – until tomorrow.