Photo by Robin Wheeler
Mike Emerson: downhome chef, now part of a star-studded lineup.
While the San Francisco 49ers eat the Rams dust this coming January, their fans will be treated to a far tastier side of the Gateway City. Mike Emerson, pitmaster of Pappy’s Smokehouse, has been tapped by Michael Mina to participate in the acclaimed chef’s Tailgate Experience.
The event will take place at Levi’s Stadium when the Rams play the 49ers on January 3. The exclusive event — now in its second season — is the brainchild of Mina, who in addition to being one of America's top chefs is a lifelong football fan and avid tailgater. For a $5,000 membership, fans get access to a bountiful spread every game day courtesy of a rotating culinary star-studded lineup. This year, Emerson is part of that list.
Emerson will be paired with chef Ming Tsai, who's won both an Emmy (for the Food Network's "East Meets West with Ming Tsai) and a Beard Award (for "Best Chef Northeast" in 2002). He admits he is a bit star-struck. “I burn meat for a living and here I am being paired with one of the best chefs in the world,” he laughs.
Emerson may be humble, but his world-class barbecue made quite an impression on Mina, a Michelin-starred and James Beard award-winning chef. In fact, Mina tapped him because of his personal affinity for Emerson's food.
“Michael came into Pappy’s a couple of years ago and we hit it off," Emerson says. "He told me they had nothing like it in San Francisco. We kept in touch, and he asked me to do the event last year. I had other things going on that conflicted with it so I had to say no.”
This year, Mina again reached out to Emerson, who will be the lone representative of the barbecue genre for this season’s Tailgate Experience lineup. Though he’ll be in the company of such acclaimed culinary celebrities as Tsai, Jose Andres, Todd English and Andrew Zimmern, Emerson is inclined to keep things simple.
“Ming and I are both responsible for one passed course,” Emerson explains. “I’m not sure if we are supposed to collaborate or each do our own thing. Either way, I’m going to go acoustic and not bring my electric guitar — keep it simple and basic and not do something that is outside of who we are.”
Because Mina handpicks chefs for the Tailgate Experience season, an invite is seen as a big honor. “These guys are real chefs. I’m just a hillbilly from the Midwest,” Emerson laughs. Obviously, Mina thinks otherwise.