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Joe Cahn believes in fun and food more than football

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'Commisioner of tailgating' is at home in stadium parking lots

By Greg Summers

Joe Cahn has the best job in America.

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He is the self-proclaimed commissioner of tailgating, a job he invented in 1996 after selling his business, the New Orleans School of Cooking. He also sold his house and bought a motor home.

Since then, Cahn has traveled to all 31 NFL stadiums, nine NASCAR tracks and 123 college football stadiums.

He was in Foxboro, Mass., on Monday night for the Patriots’ home opener against the Buffalo Bills.

It can be a busy profession, but the recently-married Cahn said it has his wife’s seal of approval.

“We got married in November and honeymooned at the Ole Miss game,” he said. “My wife is a registered nurse in Fort Worth.”

The Monday night contest ended a four-game-in-five-days sweep for the “commish.” He saw the Steelers/Titans game Thursday, the Penn State/Syracuse game Saturday and attended the New York Giants/Washington Redskins game Sunday.    

It isn’t his love of pigskin that spurs him on, though.

It’s his love of tailgating.

After all, it is his job. Cahn, and his cat Sophie, promote the social occasion that happens in stadium parking lots across the nation this time of the year.

“For some reason, I’m having trouble getting schedules from the NFL this year,” Cahn said. “The league seems to think that football takes precedent over tailgating, which just isn’t true. Imagine that.”

Cahn and Sophie arrived outside Gillette Stadium early Monday, where Cahn immediately donned his Patriots jersey (he has a home jersey for all 31 NFL teams). After all, since he and Sophie live in a motor home, he said  wherever they park is home.

“I’ll be a Carolina fan a little later on,” he said. “Sophie and I will be at a Panthers’ game at the end of the season.”

Before that, he has a 25th wedding anniversary to work in. And just like every college T-shirt and hat on his 40-foot-long Country Coach home, there is a story behind it.

He and his wife were married for 24 years, got divorced and then remarried.

“Technically, this makes 25 years for us,” Cahn said.      

While Cahn said he doesn’t really have a favorite team. Sophie, on the other hand, he said, is a big Nittany Lions fan.

“Penn State fits because, after all, she is a cat,” he said, laughing.

“People are constantly asking where my favorite place is, but I don’t have a preference, The best place to tailgate is where you are with the friends you make. What makes tailgating is that it’s really about participating, not observing. At the beginning of the season, it’s great because everyone still has a shot.”

Cahn said there are a few regional differences (usually food) in tailgating around the country, but it’s still a social event for the whole family to enjoy.

“Basically, it’s the same,” he said. “We now talk about people being transient in that you be from the North and living in the South and visa versa, but the basic tailgating fare of hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken remains the same. You can’t forget there are kids out there and you need to prepare what you know they’ll eat.”

At Giants Stadium parking lot on Sunday, Cahn noticed one tailgater with paella and one with hot dogs.

“There was only one parking spot between the two, which is what makes tailgating cuisine so wonderful,” he said. “Tailgating is five hours of socialization with food.”    

Pro football fans stick with more regional tastes. Cahn said it was a given that the aroma of lobsters and steak filled the air outside the Patriots game. And when he ventures into Miami later this week, he will see more Cuban dishes.

“With tailgating, you have a total diversity,” he said. “In Louisiana, it’s more big pot cooking. When you go to Texas, its barbecued brisket and in the Carolinas, its more barbecued pork, pulled pork and pork shoulder.

“The one thing you do see with NFL tailgaters, however, is a little different mind set with recipes from the visiting team’s region of the country,” he said. “People plan their menus based who they are playing.”

College football, he said, has a little different atmosphere when it comes to tailgating, especially below the Mason-Dixon line and east of the Mississippi River.

“Everyone in the South knows that you can’t have a social without food,” he said. “We have to have both hands working.”

Tailgating tips

- Do most of the prep work in advance – Keep foods simple. Make them bite-size or something that can be eaten with your hands. Baking your own cupcakes in team colors is a quick and easy way to show school spirit.

- Build your meal around the weather – Since tailgating is an outdoor activity, it’s a good idea to know the weather forecast. Weather.com has a page on its Web site that will give the specific conditions for each college and pro football game every week.

- Go potluck – If you plan to tailgate with friends, have them bring their favorite dish to share. Pack prepared food in disposable containers and when possible, pack food in plastic zip-top bags. The food should be ready to go about an hour before the game starts.

- Make a list of the items you want to take – Pack items the night before in a “permanent tailgating box” that includes paper products (plates, napkins, paper towels, etc.) Be sure to include trash bags, water, baby wipes (to clean your face and hands), antacid and a small first-aid kit. While you’re at it, throw a roll of toilet paper in the box, too. Load the car the night before with everything except perishable items.       

- Bring a folding table to put everything on – That's much easier than trying to hold a flimsy paper plate in your lap.

Now that you are ready to go, here are two easy-to- make tailgating dishes to include on your next parking lot menu. Both of them can be put together with very little work.

Wish-Bone’s Classic Italian Burgers are the perfect tailgate sandwich for a warm, early fall afternoon.

What better way to cheer on your favorite team than with Cheerwine Cake? It has the texture and look of Red Velvet Cake, but its own unique taste. The mention of a cake made from a regional soft drink drew interest from the commissioner of tailgating.

“It always amazes me why anyone would go to a chain store when there’s so much good local food like that to choose from,” he said. “I think that’s what tailgating is all about.”

Classic Italian Burgers

Ingredients

1-1/2 pounds lean (93/7) ground beef

1/4 cup Wish-Bone Italian Dressing

1/4 cup finely chopped green onions

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 buns

4 slices mozzarella or provolone cheese (optional)

Lettuce (optional)

Tomato slices (optional)

Directions

– Combine ground beef, Italian dressing, green onions, Parmesan cheese and garlic in medium bowl; shape into four 3/4-inch-thick patties.

– Grill 13 minutes or until desired doneness, turning once. Serve on buns with mozzarella cheese, lettuce and tomato.

– Recipe from www.wishbone.com

Cheerwine Cake

Ingredients

Cake

1 box devil’s food cake mix

3 eggs

1/2 cup oil

1 cup Cheerwine soft drink

1 teaspoon almond extract flavoring

Icing

1/2 cup butter or margarine (let soften)

1/3 cup Cheerwine soft drink

1/4 cup cocoa

1 pound box powdered sugar

1/ 4 teaspoon almond extract flavoring

Directions

– Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

– Mix the cake mix as directed on the box, but use the Cheerwine in place of water. Also, add the almond extract, which is not part  of the box mix recipe.

– Bake the cake as directed on the box.

– To make the icing, mix together butter and Cheerwine with a mixer. Add cocoa, powdered sugar and almond extract and mix until smooth. Spread frosting on cool Cheerwine Cake.

– Recipe from yesyoucancook.com