5/18/2013 11:03:00 AM Day in the life of ... Sam Plunkett, roadside chef
“It’s enjoyable for me to see people come out and enjoy their lunch,” says roadside chef Sam Plunkett said. “My grandfather said to me, ‘you keep an honest face, you smile at the people when they come by, and you make them happy.” VVN/Bill Helm
CAMP VERDE - As a small child on the island of Maui, Sam Plunkett first learned how to cook authentic Hawaiian barbecued food. For seven years, Plunkett, a resident of Camp Verde, has been serving home-cooked barbecue from his favorite roadside location, across the highway from the Cliff Castle Casino Hotel on Middle Verde Road.
"I was inspired to do this by my grandfather," Plunkett said, "and he taught me how to do Hawaiian imu pit barbecue.
"So my grandfather taught me how to do this," Plunkett said. "He did it for the Baptist church. He used to make big, Hawaiian parties. So my grandfather used to cook for these people. He used to cook around 1,500 laulaus."
"When I was 5 years old, my grandfather said, 'I'm going to teach you now how to do this. You might not be old enough to learn it. But you will be knowledgeable to learn this, as you get older.'"
Plunkett serves up food on Mondays and Thursdays, the first, second and last week of each month. Plunkett arrives around 9:15 a.m. and leaves around 2:30 p.m.
"Usually takes me 15 minutes to set up," Plunkett said. "I set up my BBQ grill, open the grill up and get the fire going. Then I start setting up the tables. As soon as I am done setting up, I get the fire going and then I open my meat and have it all ready to go."
"I cook [my barbecued food] the night before," Plunkett said. "The pork takes 13 hours to cook. That makes it real tender. The laulau takes 15 hours to cook. The meat just falls off the bone."
"The only thing I cook out here is if I am doing teriyaki grilled chicken," Plunkett said. "Then I come out here early and throw it on the grill. It takes 20-30 minutes to cook the chicken on the grill."
Plunkett generally serves two platters: a pork dish and a lau-lau dish. Laulau is a Hawaiian dish with pork and chicken, sometimes with fish, though Plunkett said he does not cook his laulau with fish.
"It's my weekly routine to come out here," Yavapai-Apache Police officer Nathan Huibregtse said. "I like everything."
Yavapai-Apache Police detective Bob Davis said, "This [food] is really good. I really like the sauce."
Anytime someone talks about Plunkett's barbecue sauce, he responds, "That's the magic."
"It's enjoyable for me to see people come out and enjoy their lunch," Plunkett said. "My grandfather said to me, 'you keep an honest face, you smile at the people when they come by, and you make them happy. That's what it's all about.'"