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BBQ Profile: Matthew & Yvonne La Rou

T. Michael Garrison

The Flying BBQ Judge

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I have received several emails about last months missing BBQ Profile. I want to let you know how much I appreciated all your comments. I was in the hospital over the end of the year and unable to write the article. As I prepare my articles each month I wonder if anyone ever reads my work. Although I am never happy with missing an issue, I was really appreciative of your comments.

This month I am presenting a very unique couple that I think you will find very interesting. Florida’s number one BBQ contest takes place the last weekend in January in Lakeland, Florida. The PigFest draws over 100 teams to the Sun-N-Fun grounds at Lakeland Linder airport. I judged all the ancillary contests on Friday evening and the BBQ contests on Saturday. Sharing my table in the Pro judging was Matthew La Rou, a KCBS Certified judge from The Hague, in the Netherlands. Also judging at the PigFest was his wife Yvonne, a KCBS Certified Judge. The couples’ presence in Florida is as Snow Birds. However, when they learned about a KCBS sanctioned contest they decided to judge it and see how BBQ events are done here in the U.S. They couldn’t have picked a better one to participate in for sure. This was the 25th year for the PigFest event.

Matthew was exposed to open fire cooking early in his childhood. He was raised in Michigan and his father cooked steaks, Northern Pike and a variety of meats over a gas grill in their backyard. This was a small portable grill, but it was open air cooking over a direct flame. Matthew evolved into charcoal grill cooking with an 18 inch Weber grill and used that a lot from 1976-1989. He still has that Weber charcoal grill today and uses it a lot.

In 2000 Matthew followed the blonde to the Netherlands and there he married Yvonne. That is where they both became more interested in open fire cooking. BBQ was not in the European culture at that time. He reflected that finding BBQ equipment and accessories was very difficult in Europe. Around 2013 Europe started developing an interest in BBQ and stores started offering grills and grilling accessories, sauces, rubs, and what any serious griller needed to practice their craft.

Both Matthew and Yvonne recall watching the TV show Grillmasters and how it made them want to do more grilling. He also recalls the difficulty of finding cuts of meat desirable to most BBQ and grilling folks. He walked into a local butcher shop in The Hague, his hometown, and couldn’t believe the lack of meat cuts available versus what he found in Florida. In 2011 he cooked his first beer can chicken with overwhelming success. In 2015 he entered his first Grillmaster chicken in a KCBS contest in Amsterdam. The very first contest he judged was Tony Stones event and has since judged this contest several times. Matthew’s next contest was the Regahfest in The Hague. Both have judged this contest several times and have also judged the Suydersee.

Yvonne volunteered to help at the Tony Stone contest, and she was put on the grazing table. She loved that experience so much that she quickly became certified as a KCBS Judge. When talking with Yvonne she explained to me how she loves the taste and variety of meats when smoked but she isn’t interested in the cooking part. She has someone doing the cooking for her and that allows her to enjoy eating the end result. Her role at most competi-tions was to run the grazing table. Unfortunately, most events have stopped having a grazing table with all the problems associated with the current pandemic.

Matthew is both a firefighter and an EMT. In his words, “I play with fire in my profession and also in my cooking.” His only regret is the limited number of contests in Europe. The last contest, until this weekend, was in Amsterdam in 2019.

Jim Elser and his team, Sweet Smoke Q, competed in the Pig Fest event which allowed him time to reminisce about this great event with both Yvonne and Matthew. Rub Bagby, from The Swamp Boys, brings another Europe connection to Florida through a judge’s class he taught in Amsterdam. They recalled that experience as well while attending Pig Fest. They also appreciated meeting Kevin Sandridge and learning more about the BBQBeat that he runs.

Four teams started a local BBQ competition in the Netherlands but currently Matthew’s interest is more in judging than cooking so he has withdrawn his entry from that event. Matthew is currently sponsored by Slow’N Sear, which is a U.S. based BBQ equipment manufacturer. Matthew says cooking with their equipment is a huge improvement over anything he has used to date.

This is a remarkable couple with a true love for BBQ. They continue their love for this wonderful sport that we share, even against all the challenges they face while creating their art in Europe. Please give a hearty welcome from our beloved BBQ Family to Matthew and Yvonne La Rou.

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