"Holy catfish!" said the Harvey Gough, and the only reason I'm using this quote is because it's one of the few I can. The 71-year-old Texas native has what used to be called a "colorful vocabulary," but I don't think even Crayola can do some of his words justice.
But never mind catfish; Gough wants to talk steak. After all, he's helped cooked 32,000 in the past 10 years, most of them for U.S. troops overseas. It's what the Dallas-based charitable group he founded does: Gough calls it, the Steak Team Mission.
So is Gough (pronounced "Goff") a good cook? "What kind of a [unprintable adjective] question is that?" he bristles.
OK, OK, he spent much of the past 50 years as a restaurateur, slinging hamburgers, so Gough can definitely work a grill. And he knows something about the military too, after more than three decades in the Texas Army National Guard.
The latter experience left Gough with a lot of VIP contacts (his acquaintances include a certain former president who hails from the Lone Star State), and he doesn't hesitate to call any of them. In fact, right after 9/11, Gough, now out of the military, says he got on the phone with a fellow named Tommy Franks to ask what he could do to help, because as Gough likes to say, "Freedom isn't free." The general was understandably busy and hung up on Gough.
The man is nothing if not persistent, and he kept calling. Eventually he hit on a plan to bring steaks to soldiers. That message got through.
Gough plowed through tons of red tape (which meant dealing with all sorts of lesser beings Gough refers to as "swampers" and "dog robbers") before finally getting the go-ahead. Working with military brass, says Gough, is "like pushing wet spaghetti down the street."
But he persevered, and in early 2002 there he was in Uzbekistan, just north of Afghanistan, cooking steaks for the soldiers stationed there.
By the way, Gough likes to sign off as "steak6" on communications to his team -- the numeral six being military lingo for "leader."
So why cook steaks? To show those who serve that people care. "It's…something from home," he says, for once hesitating ever so slightly.
Here's what's on his menu for the military:
Appetizer: Jalapeno encased in a piece of tenderloin wrapped with a slice of bacon
Entrée: 8 oz choice tenderloin, cooked to order
Sides: Ranch-style beans (with jalapenos) and corn bread (studded with jalapenos)
Dessert: Ice cream bar
Alert readers will note the preponderance of a certain spicy pepper, but Gough, a true man of the Southwest, seems mystified at questions about that: "They're good!" he says of the jalapenos.
The folks who've sampled his food sure seem to love it. Gough reports several soldiers have told him, "This is the best damn steak I've ever had."
He has since taken the steak show on the road to Kuwait, Iraq, Djibouti, Bucca and more, plus the USS Nimitz ("We fed 5,000 sailors on the deck, what they call their 'Steel Beach'," he says proudly).
He doesn't do it alone, of course. Gough gets plenty of help from several Dallas business folks plus corporate sponsors who give money or donate steaks at cost, or provide other services; American Airlines, for example, has helped fly thousands of pounds of meat from DFW to Frankfurt.