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I officiated my niece’s wedding last month.

Cathy and Pat Altar

Cathy and her now husband Pat had met and dated in high school in the 1980s, and as life happened, the pair went on to their own lives and respective marriages.

They reconnected nearly ten years ago, rekindling the fire that never quite went out between them – and on June 24, they made it legal and tied the knot.

Aside from being flattered and honored that they would have thought of me for such a milestone, I also felt unqualified – to say nothing of the fact that I was not an ordained minister.

But I also knew that I could do this. I officiated a wedding at the last minute here in Myrtle Beach a few years ago, when a minister failed to show up to a friend’s wedding. Thankfully, there was a notary on hand to make the deal official – and I did the best I could to drum up an impromptu ceremony. Nothing like a little pressure – but we all know enough about weddings from movies and TV shows we have seen and other weddings we have attended to know the basic routine of a wedding ceremony.

Cathy and Pat Wedding Group

I said yes immediately, thinking that we could replicate the whole notary-on-hand thing. The problem was this: After a quick search on the Web, I discovered that a notarized wedding is not allowed in North Carolina.

Cathy sent me a link to an outfit that ordained folks online – and it was perfectly legit – only I wasn’t particularly down with the oath I was supposed to take before proceeding. This was something to the effect that marriage was only for a man and a woman and I would have to swear that I agreed with all that – including a decisively fundamentalist doctrine.

Check, please.

It should come as no big surprise that I am for marriage equality – and diversity. Call me what you will, but I believe that if they so desire, any two people who love each other should be entitled to marry and to enjoy all the privileges, benefits and yes – the headaches – of married life.

I also believe in God, but I can live without some of His people.

After a brief search, I was happy to find an organization called American marriage Ministries, which more accurately lined up with my beliefs – and after a simple process, I became an ordained minister.

Some states require that officiants register within the counties in which they are to perform marriage ceremonies, but North Carolina is not one of them – so I was good to go.

The cool thing about my ordination is that I am free to design and perform whatever type of ceremony the couple wants – from uber-religious to secular to quirky – and I am not hamstrung by one set of beliefs.

Cathy and Pat opted for a traditional Christian ceremony with an added feature called a sand ceremony, where the officiant and the couple pour different colors of sand into a vessel, signifying the union in a nice visual and symbolic way. The sand ceremony is an alternative to the better-known unity candle ceremony.

Roger With Cathy and Pat - Wedding

The gathering, at my sister’s home in Denver, North Carolina, was attended by friends and loved ones – all in all a beautiful setting.

Saying yes opens doors and paves the way for sometimes unexpected opportunities. I believe that.

Roger Filling Out Marriage License

I remain honored to have been asked – and happy that I punched another hole in my comfort zone.

ICI Exterior

International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach

Over the years, I have frequently read about the value of saying yes to opportunities that expand our horizons and take us out of our comfort zones.

Even though I have been performing music professionally for years, work in a public-facing job at a high-end cigar shop and have interviewed hundreds of people for my newspaper features, I still consider myself a bit shy.

Many of my friends might scoff at this because I enjoy friendship and camaraderie, but at the same time I still experience a bit of social awkwardness in new settings.

Which is exactly why I said yes last month to take on two wildly different roles – as a judge in a culinary competition and as a wedding officiant.

The following is part one of my week of saying yes.

My friend, Joe Bonaparte, is executive chef at the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach. I have profiled him a couple of times – once for The Sun News and once for the now-defunct Weekly Surge, an alt weekly that was under the umbrella of The Sun News and its parent company, McClatchy Newspapers.

When Joe asked me to participate as a judge, this was on the heels of a story I had just finished about a pitmaster named Phil Wingo of an outfit called #porkmafia, who visited the Institute for a barbecue intensive.

Naturally, I thought I was judging a barbecue competition.

Nope.

I was nervous enough about saying yes to this because I felt like I didn’t know enough about barbecue to be of any real value – but Joe assured me I would be fine.

But what I didn’t know was that this competition was a bit more, shall we say, complicated – than barbecue.

Judges' Table

The event for which I was to participate as one of three judges was the National Pork Board’s “Be Inspired” cooking competition for foodservice educators, part of the 13th annual leadership conference for CAFÉ – The Center for the Advancement of Foodservice Education – a 3-day program chock-full of culinary events, breakout classes and presentations.

CAFÉ is headed up by executive director Mary Petersen, who founded the organization in 2002, but brings more than 20 years of experience to the table, promoting the professional development of foodservice educators.

Marilou Tate

Chef Marylou Tate

The International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach, with Bonaparte at the helm, played host to this ambitious conference.

The cooking competition was put together by Chef Paul Sorgule of Harvest America Ventures, LLC, which according to its website is “a network of seasoned food service professionals who collectively have the ability to provide any service that an up and coming restaurateur may need.  This network covers all typical issues faced by a chef/owner as they set the stage for a successful restaurant venture.”

I was overtaken by the sheer awesomeness of the institute’s brand-spanking new, $15 million facility – gleaming in all of its glory. And folks – foodies, teachers, visiting chefs, culinary students – were swarming the place.

I felt outclassed and definitely out of my element.

But after I met a few people and said hello to Joe – I and relaxed a bit, realizing that the event, while earning the chef-contestants continuing education points, was meant to be fun.

Thankfully, I was able to get a few pointers from a fellow judge, Chef David Bottagaro of the National Pork Board as well as from Sorgule – the upshot being to enjoy the process while tasting some wonderful food from three outstanding chef-instructors – judging on categories like effective use of protein, taste and flavor, plate composition, plate presentation, and texture and temperature.

Sorgule, Bottagaro

Chef Paul Sorgule, Chef David Bottagaro

The other judge was Don Odiorne of the Idaho Potato Commission.

My only regret is that I didn’t have anything meaningful to say afterward when the chefs were called in for individual critiques.

Sorgule was gracious when he told me that all I really had to do was think about whether or not I enjoyed the individual dishes and whether or not I would have ordered these in a restaurant. Thanks, Chef Sorgule.

Stay tuned – I will have more about Chef Bonaparte and the International Culinary Institute of Myrtle Beach in future blog posts.

Culinary Contestants

Chef-Contestants

 

 

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