BOB PROM HAS CATERED company picnics, weddings and college toga parties. He met actress Ann-Margaret while cooking at Brainerd International Raceway and singer Roy Clark while roasting meat at a Get-Together. Prom even provided food for a divorce party , five years after he catered the couple's wedding.
Prom has had all of this excitement while cooking - and catering isn't even his career. He calls it his hobby. (He retired earlier this year after working as a mechanic for "35 years, six months, four days and two hours, but who's keeping track?")
Prom roasted his first hog in 1981. Now, 26 years later, he owns 14 hog roasters and has catered as many as three parties in one day, with the help of friends and family. Prom, who studied metal working in vocational school, builds all of his equipment, including an 8-foot long char broiler, portable deep fryers, kettle corn poppers and coolers on wheels. He generally will start the meat cooking at home and keep it cooking on the road. But 90 percent of the food prep takes place right at the party site.
Before Prom retired, he sometimes would get up at 3 or 4 a.m. to start cooking, go to work for eight or nine hours, then serve 300 to 400 people in the evening after work. He remembers getting up at 5 a.m. one Saturday to cater a wedding in St. Cloud before heading north to cook for the rest of the weekend at the Brainerd Internationl Raceway. That, he said, resulted in 42 straight hours without sleep.
That's some kind of hobby. Although visitors to his web site, www.promsroasting.com, have tried to entice Prom to cater parties in Florida, California and New Jersey, he generally won't take his roasting road show outside of Central Minnesota. Dates on his calendar fill fast and, as Prom points out, "there's only one of me to go around." If you're looking to book Prom for a summertime party, it's best to contact him In January or February. In fact, by early spring of 2007 he already was getting requests for 2008.
He roast whole hogs and grills steaks, chops and loins as well as burgers, brats and hot dogs. He owns enough corn boilers that he can cook 200 dozen cobs at a time. He can turn out 2,000 brats an hour on one of his grills.
The most people he's served at a single event? Five thousand.
And, he serves a whole lot more than meat. He'll stuff a hog with sauerkraut, roast baby red potatoes, add some secret ingredients to canned beans, whip up a big batch of coleslaw and lay out platters of dinner rolls. In fact, he'll provide the plates, napkins, salt, pepper and barbecue sauce - and tables, chairs and tents if you need those.
Prom loves a challenge, whether it's putting on a great spread for a big crowd or building bigger and better equipment. (He built four cookers on one trailer and then outdid himself by building a six-cooker trailer.)
He has learned by doing. In 1981, he needed an assistant to help him roast one hog. Now, he can do eight at a time all by himself. His fastest-paced production; at a 2006 party, Prom and his helpers served a "ballpark lunch" or hot dogs, beans and chips to 450 people in 22 minutes.
The challenges aren't always related to the number of mouths Prom has to feed. He has worked in rain storms, (3 inches in four hours), hail storms and even a tornado. In that instance, he had to abandon his cooker to head for safety. Prom returned to find that the roof had blown off the picnic shelter, "but my cooker was still there, running."
Prom, who loves to tell a story as much as he loves a challenge, recalls the toughest conditions he endured; 23 degrees below zero and 20-mph winds. "After that job, I told my wife to get the Bible and I put my hand on it and swore I'd never do that again....I won't roast a pig in the wintertime."
Although Prom guards his secret recipes, he will share a tip with backyard chefs: "Don't be in a hurry and enjoy the moment. Cook slow and serve no swine before its time."