When Joe Cahn rolls his motor coach into the Meadowlands Stadium parking lot this weekend, he will definitely be hungry. And it’s a crispy, creamy cannoli that he’ll be craving. Lucky for him, tailgaters’ tables in New Jersey go way beyond the standard Chips Ahoy cookies and always boast these awesome rolled pastries stuffed with a rich, sweetened cheese filling. Cahn knows better than anyone that tailgate menus these days offer way more than hamburgers and hot dogs sizzling on a hibachi.
The Commissioner of Tailgating, is a job-title Cahn created for himself 15 years ago and has lived up to ever since. As America’s only professional tailgater, Joe eats his way across the country while visiting every NFL city and numerous college campuses to tailgate at football games. He has tailgated at more than eight hundred games, racked up over eight thousand miles and has consumed so many meals with fans, those passionate about food and football, that he’s lost count. A celebrity in tailgate society, Joe receives a hearty welcome from fans and always an invitation to come and join them at their parking lot parties.
When I catch up with him by phone, he is making his way east toward Route 80 and The Garden State. He tells me how beautiful the colors have been in western Pennsylvania. He says enjoying the Fall foliage is just one of the perks of his occupation. He started this ‘job’ in 1996 after selling his business, The New Orleans Cooking School. There he offered luxury half-day cooking classes and weekend getaway cooking vacations, celebrating traditional Creole and Cajun recipes. (His signature Jambalaya recipe is included in this post.)
While in NJ this weekend, he’ll be attending back-to-back-to-back tailgates. Saturday he’ll be at Rutgers Stadium; Sunday at the Meadowlands for the Giants; and he’ll wrap it up when the Jets play the Dolphins at home for Monday Night Football.
“Even if I won the lottery, I’d be doing the exact same thing I am now,” Cahn said. “Nobody is unhappy at a tailgate…it’s not a job that makes you a lot of money, but you’ll never go hungry.” When visiting the New York/New Jersey area The Commish says he is always impressed with the melting pot of ethnic choices that reflects a population with roots from all over the world. He loves to dive into pots of homemade meatballs or sausage and peppers simmering in tomato gravy, also homemade, of course. And there are always great rolls from the neighborhood bakery, served right from their large brown paper bags.
If its an early game he may be treated to a cast-iron skillet full of breakfast pasta topped with chopped Spanish or Italian ham. Quesadillas and peppery cheese-stuffed “long hots” may show up in the afternoon. Skirt steak, marinated in olive oil, wine vinegar, spices and garlic for hours in a leakproof ziplock bag, will then be grilled for dinner after the game.
Joe is so involved in tailgate hopping that he never actually attends the game. And he’s learned he’s not alone in sitting out the game in the parking lot. He once got to talking to a woman who was admiring a tailgater’s skill on the grill and sampling the array of dishes displayed on the long portable banquet tables. When he asked who she would be rooting for at the game she responded, “Oh, I hate football! I’m here for the best free cooking lessons in the country!”
It was from one of his tailgate friends that Joe learned about personalized hot dogs. He tells me how it’s done, “Use a paring knife to thinly score a name or initials in a frankfurter before grilling. While on the grill the heat expands the carved letters so there is no question who it’s for when it’s done.” Cahn explained. Sounds like an idea I’ll be trying at my next family cook-out. His main tip for tailgating is to do all the prep work at home and make sure to prepare items that can be served bite-size. “People are standing up and usually holding a can, so food has to be able to be picked up and enjoyed in one or two bites,” says Cahn.
Speaking of the ubiquitous cans that are always present at tailgates, The Commish tells me he is currently on a 17-city tour of NFL stadiums called the Can Crusade sponsored by The Aluminum Association. According to www.aluminum.org, The Aluminum Association, promotes aluminum as the most sustainable and recyclable automotive, packaging and construction material in today’s market.
Cahn has dubbed himself ‘The Can Crusader’ and as such will be reminding fans that aluminum cans are the smartest and safest choice for beverages consumed while tailgating. By recycling cans, tons of aluminum will be kept out of landfills in every city.
At a tailgate in Green Bay in September, Cahn kicked off the Can Crusade to raise awareness among tailgaters about the importance of recycling all of their aluminum cans. Cahn and his volunteers broke the Guinness World Record for the longest can train, 66,343 cans strung end-to-end with wire , creating a chain nearly 5 miles long. All of the cans were then sold to a local recycling operation and the profits were donated to a local food bank.
Joe Cahn couldn’t be happier being the spokesperson for this drive or with his life spent making friends in every city he visits and being invited to taste their favorite tailgate recipes. “The parking lot is the last great American neighborhood. It’s like walking through thousands of backyards with no privacy fences,” Cahn said. “You break bread to become friends and at a tailgate, the kitchens come into the parking lot.” So if you’re tailgating in New Jersey this weekend, look for Joe Cahn. Stop by and have a cold beverage. But when you’re done, remember… leave the can, take the cannolis.
by The Commissioner of Tailgating, Joe Cahn
This is my favorite recipe because you can put just about anything in it. If it walks, crawls, swims or flies, it can be thrown into Jambalaya. Everything goes into one pot, so clean-up is a breeze.
(12 to 15 servings)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
5 cups chicken stock or water flavored with chicken bouillon
1 ½ lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 tbs. minced garlic
salt and ground black pepper
4 cups long grain rice
1 ½ lbs. sausage cut in ¼-inch slices
2 tbsp. Kitchen Bouquet (browning agent)
4 cups chopped onions
2 tbsp. seasoning salt
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped green onions
2 cups chopped green bell pepper
Season chicken with salt and pepper; brown in hot oil in 8 quart Dutch oven or stockpot over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook 5-to-7 minutes. Remove chicken and sausage from pan; set aside. Add onions, celery, green peppers and garlic; cook, stirring 7-10 minutes or until vegetables begin to wilt. Stir in chicken stock, reserved chicken and sausage, seasoning salt and Kitchen Bouquet. Bring to a boil. Add rice and return to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook 10 minutes; remove cover and quickly turn rice from top to bottom completely. Replace cover and cook 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in green onions.
For brown jambalaya, add 1 heaping tbsp. brown sugar to hot oil and caramelize, or make a roux, or use Kitchen Bouquet. For red jambalaya, add approximately 1/4 cup paprika or use 1/2 stock and 1/2 tomato juice or V-8 for your liquid. For seafood jambalaya, add cooked seafood when rice is cooked.
If using an electric stove, reduce cooking time by 3-4 minutes.
Joe’s Tips: Use 1 cup of rice for every 2 cups of vegetables (onion, celery, bell pepper) Use 1 ¼ cups of liquid for every 1 cup of uncooked rice 1 cup of uncooked rice will make 3 cups of cooked rice, season accordingly Cook jambalaya for a total of 25 to 30 minutes, stirring well after 10 minutes.
Kerry Brown, Burlington County Regional Editor, prefers summer’s light, casual meals from the grill and cocktails featuring fresh ingredients. Always a fan of entertaining at home, she co-founded a dinner group of 32 people more than 20 years ago. These are still among her closest friends and the whole group makes the effort to get together at someone’s home at least once a year. She lives in Medford, NJ with her husband, two children, and a little gray cat named Tiki.