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Lesters claim rib-cooking crown



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Lauri Hoffman (left) and her mother, Barbara Lester, took first place at the big rib cook-off Saturday at Louie’s Food & Spirits in Lakeville. They competed in honor of the late Budd Lester, who owned the restaurant for 18 years. Photos by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
October 26, 2011 - No doubt the late Budd Lester was looking down from heaven Saturday night and smiling with pride.

That's because his wife Barbara and daughter Lauri (Hoffman), both of Addison Township, earned first place at the first annual rib-cooking competition held at Louie's Food & Spirits in Lakeville.

"I can't believe that we won," Lauri said. "Honest to God, I can't. It's just so awesome. I'm overwhelmed."

"We were totally surprised," said Barbara, who was a little choked up about winning this in memory of her husband of 53 years. "We thought wouldn't it be nice to come in third or fourth. We didn't expect anything like that."

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All the ribs in the competition were judged by a panel of local celebrities based on taste, tenderness and appearance.

Out of a possible 162 points, the Lester family's ribs scored an impressive 128. Elizabeth Glembocki and her team, The Grillin' Gleemanns, came in second with 127 points, while Aaron Vaught and his team, Grills Gone Wild, took third place with 125 points.

It was very fitting that the Lester family won the competition because before it was called Louie's, the popular 600 Lakeville Rd. restaurant was known as Lester's. It was built by Budd in 1980 and operated by him until he sold it in 1998.

The barbecue sauce Barbara and Lauri used to beat the other 14 teams was actually Budd's recipe. Ribs weren't a regular menu item at Lester's, but they were known to make an appearance as a special, especially on a Saturday night.

Lauri described the sauce's flavor as "tangy and sweet."

"It has a little onion in it," she said.

The rest is a family secret, so don't bother to ask.

Although Budd passed away in October 2007, his special ladies thought he should be represented in Louie's "Rib Fest 20011: Who's got the best rack?"

"We were here for him," said Lauri, as she gazed lovingly at a photograph of her father that stood watch over the grill during the competition.

When she and her mother's names were announced as the winners, Lauri began jumping up and down, smiling ear to ear and hugging everyone in sight.

"I was elated," she said. "I acted just like my dad would . . . They say I'm my dad's daughter . . . I think dad would have been very happy and very proud. Throughout my life, I've always wanted to make him proud."

"(Budd) and Lauri are two of a kind. He would have been just as excited as she was," Barbara noted.

Believe it or not, this was Lauri's first time cooking ribs.

"I never cooked ribs before," she said. "The men in the family always cooked the ribs."

Before the winning ribs touched flame, they were first coated in a homemade Cajun-style rub mixed up by Lauri.

The racks were browned on a standard Weber gas grill at a temperature of about 450 degrees.

"You get them nice and brown," Lauri said. "Watch them, so they don't burn."

Lauri then bathed the ribs in a mystery beer – again, don't ask – and wrapped them in aluminum foil. She slow-cooked them for about two hours at a temperature of about 250 degrees.

Next, the ribs were coated in Budd's special sauce and cooked on the grill for 30 minutes without foil. They were then rewrapped in foil and kept warm.

Prior to serving, a little more sauce was added and the ribs were heated up to warm them through.

Although there was certainly much rejoicing and jubilation over the Lester family's big victory, there was also a quiet, touching moment when a loving daughter paid tribute to her father by pouring a shot of cognac over the earth beneath her feet.

The shot had been placed next to her dad's photo by restaurant co-owner and friend Zivko "Zeeke" Vasovski.

"He told me and mom, at the end of the night, pour it on the ground and give it to your dad," Lauri said. "Zeeke misses him and he did it to honor dad. My father's missed by a lot of people."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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