After 21 years of contention, the Jack Daniel’s World Championship Invitational Barbecue has its first East Coast victor. The team doesn’t hail from North Carolina or even from Lynchburg, Tenn., where the competition is held. Nope — Team I Que is based in Hopkinton, Mass. And one of its members is John Delpha, co-owner and chef at The Belted Cow in Essex Junction.
The team of three cooks was one of 70 in competition, from spots as far-flung as Australia and Estonia, and one of only five from New England invited to the prestigious event. Teams are required to cook up samples of white- and dark-meat chicken; pork ribs, shoulder or butt; and beef brisket. I Que, headed by Massachusetts resident Chris Hart, original owner of Boston’s Tremont 647 restaurant, placed eighth for chicken, second for butts and shoulders, and second for Delpha’s Bananas Foster Cheesecake Parfait. That was enough to earn it the title of Grand Champion.
Delpha, who spoke to Seven Days while driving back from Lynchburg with the team’s custom Jamie Geer pit, is pictured on the Jack Daniel’s website hugging his teammates. An oversized check for $5000 looms in the background. But “it’s not about the money,” he says. “It’s about the prestige.”
Delpha hopes this national honor will stir up interest in his fine dining restaurant, located in the Lincoln Inn. Though he doesn’t whip up competition-style meat every day — “too much prep,” he says — he’ll offer opportunities to try his winning tastes. After a successful test-run at a 7 Nights Bite Club tasting, for which he prepared some of his competition standards, Delpha plans on making barbecue specials on Tuesday nights. He also hopes to host occasional small barbecue nights at the restaurant. Until then, he points out, “we always have pulled pork on the menu.”