Buoyed by a strong showing in two polls, the "other" Texas presidential candidate finally catches the eye of the Perry-fatigued media.
(The famous Perini Ranch mesquite-smoked peppered beef tenderloin. Photo by Pat Sharpe) Editor's Note: This guest post is by longtime Texan Jim Shahin, now a resident of Washington, D.C.... and "craving Central Texas barbecue almost every minute of every day," he says. The "Smoke Signals" columnist for the Washingon Post, Shahin was also a contributor to our 1997 barbecue Top 50. Ten years ago this month, Tom Perini arrived in Washington D.C., from his ranch in Buffalo Gap, Texas, proud to be catering the annual Congressional Picnic at the White House. The event was a huge deal for the Texas cowboy who started his career in 1973 as a chuck wagon cook for hungry ranch hands. In 1983, he had opened Perini Ranch Steakhouse, which developed a reputation for excellence far beyond Buffalo Gap, a town of about 400 outside Abilene. Academy Award-winner Robert Duvall had found his way to the remote restaurant, as had Billy Bob Thornton, who told Men’s Journal that Perini’s smoked brisket was the best he ever ate. Perini’s culinary fame eventually reached the Texas governor’s mansion, where he regularly catered barbecues for George W. Bush. “When he ran for president, I remember fantasizing about cooking at the White House,” recalls Perini. In May 2001, he got his chance when President Bush asked Perini to cater the 2001 Congressional Picnic in the fall. The gala would be a Texas-themed, and Texas-sized, party that would feature country music’s Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel. In June, Perini arrived in Washington to work out details with White House chefs. “I told them we were going to have bread pudding, green chile hominy, Southern green beans and beef tenderloin,” Perini, 68, recalls. “And the chef from the White House said, ‘You’re in Washington, and you have to cook chicken.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not serving chicken.’ “The room got real quiet. ‘When you are serving a Texas chuck wagon meal, you serve beef.’ I said, ‘If you want another meat, I’ll do catfish.’” After some discussion, and a later conversation with the president himself, the entrees were set: mesquite-smoked peppered tenderloin and fried catfish.
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