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On May 11, 2018, Jeff Michner, the pitmaster and executive chef at Brooklyn’s Pig Beach, unexpectedly passed away following a sudden brain bleed. At the age of 36, his death was tragic and he left behind his wife Sara and 16-month-old daughter Hayes. He also left behind his Pig Beach family, where he was instrumental in putting the joint's barbecue on the map.
“Everything happened so incredibly fast,” said Matt Abdoo, chef/partner at Pig Beach and Jeff’s brother-in-law. “We had our manager meeting that day [at Pig Beach]. I gave him a hug goodbye and had to go work the line at Pig Bleecker. Around 7, I get a phone call from my manager Michelle and she basically said, ‘Something is wrong with Jeff. You need to get over here right away. He’s slurring his speech. I’m really worried. I called 911 and the ambulance is on its way.’”
Jeff was brought to NYU Langone in Cobble Hill, but they could not help him and he was quickly transferred to NYU Medical Center in Manhattan. Less than 24 hours after Jeff left Pig Beach in an ambulance, he passed away.
“It was an epically horrible, tragic, sudden thing that happened in a blink, and it completely changed my life, my wife’s life, his wife and daughter’s life, and his parent’s lives forever,” Abdoo said. “It happened so quickly that there was nothing that anyone could do.”
Abdoo and the team at Pig Beach is doing whatever they can to help Jeff’s family and to build a college fund for Jeff’s daughter. They will be putting on a benefit to raise money for Jeff’s family at Pig Beach from 12 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 13. It will feature many of the country’s top pitmasters serving amazing food, as well as items from NYC chefs, bars, breweries, and distilleries. On top of this, there will also be a silent auction.
The event will be a memorial of sorts, but it’ll also be a party with outstanding food, something Jeff would appreciate as the person who breathed new life into Pig Beach after its rough first year. In Jeff’s two years as executive chef and pitmaster at Pig Beach, he made a substantial impact on Pig Beach’s quality and consistency. His signature item was brisket, and Abdoo says Jeff “brought our brisket game up.”
To celebrate Jeff’s legacy, Abdoo and the Pig Beach team have lined up an all-star list of pitmasters from around the country. Check out this list and what food items they will be serving up:
Billy Durney - Hometown Bar-B-Que of Brooklyn, NY - Brisket on homemade flour tortillas
Carey Bringle - Peg Leg Porker of Nashville, Tennessee - Fried ribs w/ white sauce
Chris Lilly - Big Bob Gibson BBQ of Decatur, Alabama - Handmade gnocchi with BBQ beef rib ragu
Craig Verhage and Leslie Roark Scott - Ubons BBQ of Yazoo City, Mississippi - Flamethrower wings
Ed Randolph - Handsome Devil BBQ of Newburgh, New York - Smoked steamship roast
John Wheeler - Memphis Barbecue Co. of Horn Lake, Mississippi - Memphis baby back ribs
Kelly Dallas - Hogapalooza of Wynne, Arkansas - Pork belly sliders
Mike and Amy Mills - 17th Street Barbecue of Murphysboro, Illinois - Whole hog sliders
Matt Abdoo - Pig Beach of Brooklyn, New York - Pig Beach burgers
Phil Wingo - Pork Mafia of Chicago, Illinois - Smoked Tri-Tip steak
Sean Keever - Operation BBQ Relief New York State Lead - BBQ pork sliders
The pitmaster lineup is simply incredible and shows the power and closeness of the barbecue community. Abdoo has met and worked with a lot of other pitmasters in his travels and could hardly believe how many people quickly jumped on board to help.
“The barbecue community is so tightly knit, it’s incredible,” Abdoo said. “The second we reached out to everyone, they all said, ‘Just let us know when we need to be there.’ To have that outpour of support and love from these guys, it’s amazing. It brought me to tears when I first started getting replies back and how supportive they were.”
In a way, this event is so big, it’s possible to think of it as a mini-Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. (There’s still no word from organizers if anything will happen this year after it left Madison Square Park, but I am in contact with them.) Abdoo said this could even become a yearly event if things go as planned in April.
“Our hope for this is to be the team who takes on this style of Block Party event every year,” Abdoo said. “This first year is a benefit for Jeff’s family but moving forward … the money we raise will go to toward an organization called A Caring Hand, which helps families dealing with the loss and grief of loved ones who have passed away. We want to continue to grow this and someday turn this into something Big Apple Barbecue Block Party-esque.”
General admission tickets for the event run $50, while VIP tickets are $150. VIP access will let you in one hour early at 11 a.m., meet-and-greet with pitmasters, special horderves from NYC chefs, and more.
They are planning to sell 800 GA tickets, but just 150 VIP tickets. Tickets are well worth the price, not only because of the worthy cause, but also because it will be one heck of an event. If you can’t make it to the benefit, but still want to donate to Jeff’s family, a GoFundMe has been set up.
“My goal is to have everyone know who Jeff was, what he helped us build at Pig Beach, and find a way to help others deal with loss,” Abdoo said.
I hope to see you all there on April 13 and send my best to Jeff’s family and the Pig Beach team.
Founder, NYC BBQ
EAT ALL ABOUT IT
Here are the top BBQ and food stories in New York area this week:
The Royal Rib House, an old-school barbecue joint that’s been in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn for 50 years, says it will close after the building was put up for sale by the restaurant’s owners. I spoke to the restaurant and they confirmed that they plan “to close this year,” but don’t have a specific closing date yet.
Au Cheval, the Chicago restaurant known for its incredible burger, has just opened a new location in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. If you go, be sure to order the burger with extras and be aware of the reported three hour wait times at dinner.
Soon-to-open Staten Island barbecue joint Juicy Lucy BBQ has an opening date and a well-regarded pitmaster lined up to smoke its meats. Owner Richie Holmes hopes to open on April 12 and his pitmaster will be Mauro "Max" Chiefari, formerly of Franklin Barbecue in Austin.
John Brown Smokehouse owner Josh Bowen has been politically active for a long while and some of his activism took the spotlight recently when he traveled to Seattle in hopes of reviving the Amazon deal that was set to transform his neighborhood of Long Island City.
Pete Wells of the New York Times visited Madame Vo BBQ, a Vietnamese barbecue joint in the East Village, and awarded the restaurant one star. Wells says that the seven-course beef tasting is the best bet on the menu.
Here are the top BBQ (and related) food events coming soon to the New York metro area:
March 9: Indulge in all the things you’re supposed to have in moderation this weekend at the Brooklyn Chocolate, Wine & Whiskey Festival at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint. Enjoy free craft chocolate and liquor samples and much more. Buy tickets here.
March 15: The Smorgasburg X Vice Night Market is back with food, drinks, music, and more at the Villain space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. If you go, be sure to try Carnal’s short rib burger or other great vendor items. RSVP for free here.
March 23: Go wild on mac ‘n’ cheese at the Hoboken Mac & Cheese Festival just across the river in New Jersey. More than 10 vendors will be there, including House of 'Que and The Ainsworth. Tickets are sold out but you can join the waitlist. Join the waitlist here.
April 7: At The Bloody Mary Festival in Brooklyn, you’ll be able to try some of the craftiest and most creative Bloody Marys in all of NYC for 2 hours. It also includes a Brooklyn bagel bar, cheese station, and more. Buy tickets here.
April 10: The awesome Brisket King NYC event will be returning to Brooklyn on April 10. Hosted at Biba of Williamsburg, the all-inclusive event will feature 20 chefs and pitmasters serving their brisket creations. It will also feature a selection of beer, cider, wine, and spirits to enjoy. Early bird ticket sales end on March 15, so don’t delay. Buy tickets here.
April 13: Pig Beach in Brooklyn will be hosting the Jeff Michner BBQ Benefit on April 13 to raise money for Michner’s family following his death last year. The event will have an all-star lineup of pitmasters and chefs from all over the country. (See more details above.) Buy tickets here.
April 13 & 14: Enjoy hot sauce samples from makers all over the world at the 7th annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint. On top of samples, beer and BBQ will be available for purchase and there will be spicy food eating competitions to watch as well. Buy tickets here.
May 18: Mark your calendars for The World’s Fare 2019 at Citi Field in Queens. More than 100 vendors will come together and unite through authentic food, drink and music curated by the city’s leading culinary advocates. Buy tickets here.