As the San Francisco 49ers were gearing up Sunday to take on (and eventually beat) the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park, John Lessard and six of his tailgating buddies were cooking up their own victory plan.
Lessard’s crew was one of eight teams vying Sunday for Tailgater of the Year honors from the 49ers. In the end, the three judges – 49ers legend Dwight Clark, chef Loretta Keller and chef Chad McWilliams – handed the 2012 crown to the Lessard team. Tailgaters were scored on food, decorations and 49ers spirit.
Lessard credited his crew’s win to the combination of a top-notch menu and a welcoming attitude.
“As a group, we had a great idea – keep it simple and serve food that we would want to eat. Everything else would fall into place. So that’s what we did,” Lessard said.
The Lessard crew set up Smokin’ J’s Tailgate to serve a buffet of pregame fare, including:
- Buena Vista Irish coffee.
- Barbecued French toast skewers.
- Biscuits heaped with fried egg, sausage and cheese.
- Lamb chops.
- Shrimp sautéed in “secret sauce.”
- Mama’s Peruvian Kebabs (beef marinated in vinegar, cumin, aji and garlic).
- New York strip steak.
- Hickory-smoked brisket.
- “The Catch” (Dungeness crab named in honor of Dwight Clark’s famous touchdown catch).
- “Smoked Cardinal” (smoked chicken “that will give you a taste of what today’s game will bring”).
Lessard said Smokin’ J’s Tailgate “fired on all cylinders” to fuel the team’s first Tailgater of the Year victory. Other members of the team are Ryan Abel, John Cale, Rudy Chanduvi, Brian Crosby, Mitch Gregory and Anthony Mellor. Earlier in the season, at a 49ers game against the Buffalo Bills, the Lessard crew clinched the Tailgater of the Game award; that qualified them for Sunday’s Tailgater of the Year competition.
Lessard said that when he arrived Sunday at Candlestick, he didn’t think the Smokin J’s team stood a chance of grabbing the 2012 honor.
“From inside my car, I surveyed the competitors, and what I saw caused serious doubts,” he said. “The competition was stacked. I saw an 8-foot gold and red wooden bar with a fully stocked array of spirits. Near it was a 10-foot giant inflatable 49er standing guard over a succulent roasted piglet on a rotisserie.”
Lessard added: “Then I heard a familiar song that sent a chill down my back. It was the theme to the movie ‘The Godfather.’ I turned to my left and observed a stocky gentleman wielding a very large knife. He was dicing fresh ingredients for his cioppino.”