Grill masters face off at Wolf Creek for sixth annual challenge

Will Saylor, left, and Danny Hernandez compete in the 6th Annual Grill Master Challenge held at Wolf Creek Brewery in Valencia on Saturday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Charcoals smoldered as four champions of the Grill Master Challenge competed against each other for the sixth annual cook-off at Wolf Creek Brewery in Valencia on Saturday, with the proceeds benefiting the SCV Youth Project.

“Steve Corn at Newhall Escrow and Jim Lombardi at Federal Escrow both think they’re the best barbecuers on Earth,” said Anita Lombardi, owner of Federal Escrow and president of the SCV Youth Project. “So six years ago, they decided to challenge each other to a barbecue. It started as a tri tip cook-off in the parking lot of Federal Escrow and it’s just grown to this since then.”

What made each competitor a champion was they have all previously won either a people’s choice award or judges’ choice award, which made Saturday’s challenge “the ultimate battle,” Anita said.

Hosted by the Santa Clarita Valley Escrow Association, each champion grilled tri tip, chicken, flank steak or sausages for guests. Corn and Jim Lombardi, Anita’s husband, were among the champions, competing against Gino Fronti of Finance of America and Will Saylor of Bank of Santa Clarita.

The proceeds of the challenge went to the Youth Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping teenagers facing different issues, including bullying, pregnancy, substance abuse, neglect and truancy. More than $15,000 was raised last year, so the aim for this year was to raise $20,000, according to Anita Lombardi.

In contrast to his opponents, Corn said he had something unique on his grill.

“My tri tip has been cooked sous-vide, which is a water bath system,” Corn said. “You cook the meat and the protein in a water bath of 135 degrees. It breaks the collagen and fat in the meat down. Tri tip traditionally is a tougher roast – (this) tastes like filet mignon.”

Corn’s tri tip was grilled using live oak and hickory charcoal, then it sat in a tray with au jus, and was served with roasted garlic salsa and Hawaiian volcanic sea salt.

Families and guests who arrived in support of each griller sat around the brewery with chairs and tables set up by members of the youth program Strive Basketball. The challenge also featured a silent auction with items donated from various sponsors.

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