Thank you Ed for this wonderful piece on a little ole freckled face cowgirl from dust
West Texas. You captured a spirit in writing.
Posted: Wednesday, November 17, 2010 8:00 pm | Updated: 9:48 pm, Wed Nov 17, 2010.
Midland Reporter-Telegram | 0 comments
Though decades and an ocean apart, the fastidious West Texas cowgirl-chef Nicole Davenport and the unconventional Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw are in strict accord with Shaw's tribute-to-food adage in his 1903 play "Man and Superman":
"There is no love sincerer than the love of food."
Davenport, the adventuresome chef and barbecue pitmaster who welcomes adventure, seeks perfection in flavor, texture and nourishment at the grill and in the kitchen indoors or outdoors.
Like Shaw, whose works she read along with other classics and the encyclopedia on her parents' ranch, near Sheffield, 112 miles south of Midland, Davenport is a person of wit, fervor for life and individualism.
Without benefit or luxury of radio and television, the Davenport children grew up reading books and listening to their parents' tales and readings.
"And that's how we ended our day," recalls Davenport, who passes that gift to her Midland niece and nephew, Mattye, 9, and Hayden, 7.
Her witty, smart, straight-shooting and no-nonsense mother, Freida Davenport, an environmentalist and birder who oversees the ranch's "Ranch for the Birds" bird-watching aspect, maintains her 6-foot-2 stature, which is as slender as the cartoon character Olive Oyl, girlfriend of Popeye, the sailor.
"She's tough. My mom is a tough, tough lady" of Dutch heritage and was born into the legendary Herbert Noelke family of ranchers.
Her father, the 5-foot-10 Jerry Davenport who is as rotund as comedian Jackie Gleason, is the perfect complement.
"Everybody loves him," says the daughter, who took on her father's height but not his girth. "He stops and listens and talks to everybody."
Her triumphs in barbecuing are well-established Stateside and abroad. And growing up in a goat-and-sheep ranching family, she learned the ranch life as a cowgirl by working roundups with her father and brothers and by cooking from scratch with her mother, a "great baker" while her father is "a baker."
And, as the amiable captain of her kitchen and her Cowgirl Catering barbecue pit, she is ever-honing her cooking and baking skills.
Right now, as the "Organic Cowgirl" at Midland's Flat Belly Organics, she is perfecting her organic sourdough and whole-grain breads, muffins and cookies, soups and sandwiches, and other specialties.
With pleasure and glee, she beholds herself as "chef and hired gun."
Tall and lean, Shaw enjoyed robust health, which she nurtures at age 40.
Shaw, who lived just past 94 years, was a vegetarian, teetotaler, cyclist, walker and swimmer and had rather not put up with folly. He shunned tobacco, tea and coffee; preferred fact over fancy; and held deep respect for that which and for whom he found endearing.
Though their lifestyles don't exactly parallel, there is a kinship. Davenport is neither vegetarian nor teetotaler, for she savors the wholesome gifts of food and drink across the board. And like Shaw was, she is athletic, an avid cyclist who on a recent Saturday pedaled the 112 miles from Midland to the ranch in a land canyons and rustic beauty between the Pecos River and the Rio Grande. On a clear day, the view from the ranch takes in the Davis Mountains and Texas-Mexico mountains along the border.
In her yesteryears, growing up to a 5-foot-10 frame, she was a champion runner and basketball player who, on full-scholarship, played point guard and wing for Angelo State University basketball.
"She was an athlete extraordinaire," attests her older brother, J.E. "Jed" Davenport, a hearty 6-footer who is director of Midland Judicial District's Community Supervision and Corrections Department and who is former mayor of Sonora. Their younger brother, 6-foot-6 Jason Davenport, is an Oklahoma rancher.
Armed with an academic background in art and theater, Nichole Davenport fled West Texas in 1993 to find adventure in California and beyond.
"I couldn't wait to get out of here," she says on reflection. "There's a whole world to see. I've been stuck on this ranch, and I've got to go see some stuff. So I burned up the world. I went to as many places as I could go. My goal before I was 25 was to see all 50 states. I almost got it." Alaska awaits her.
For five years, she worked for Paramount Pictures. "My very first job (as a production assistant) was delivering coffee on a movie set." From there, her roles took in that of set decorator for the movie "Three Cigarettes."
In her travels, she became a llama cowgirl for two years in North Carolina by training llamas to be golf caddies.
She worked on documentary films in New York, where she lived for 10 years.
As a producer, her "biggest and favorite" was "My Dog: An Unconditional Love Story" featuring 20 celebrities, including the "amazing" British actress Lynn Redgrave, and their dogs.
Davenport's nurturing pet is Cricket, a Jack Russell terrier.
About five years ago when she turned 35, she became homesick. She was reading The New York Times while overlooking Times Square. "Then, all of a sudden, there was a big article about Marfa" in her old home, West Texas. "And I got homesick for the first time."
She worked her way back home.
"I don't think a cowgirl can ever make it (New York) home," she surmises. "I can always go back and be there for months at a time, because the culture is so great. I get smarter when I go to New York."
West Texas is home. "I just miss the people out here."
A prime example of her attraction to West Texans is in her fellow cyclists.
"People just reach around and help you out. They ride with you. They give up a little bit of themselves to make you feel special. I love cycling because it takes you outside of yourself. You're pedaling, and you're moving. It is an adventure on wheels. You're getting to see some countryside. And it is really just a nice way to think about life."
West Texas is "where I belong. This is where I wear my hat."
And her chocolate-hued cowgirl hat which, by the way, she figures will outlast her, is custom-made in Alpine by old-fashioned hatter Jim Spradley. It is a Montana-styled headwear suggestive of the Western hat worn by Tom Mix, the straight-shooting cowboy actor.
Her flair, her career focus, is cooking for others. It is in her mind and heart as surely as is West Texas.
She fired up her barbecue pit in Central Texas and won first place in the World Championship Wagyu Brisket-Steak Cook-off. Wagyu beef, derived from the Japanese Kobe rice cattle, is an "over-prime" beef delicacy with distinctive marbling and flavor.
She barbecued goat at Marathon's historic Gage Hotel.
Barbecuing with oak, she prepared a feast of "puredee Texas" beef brisket and Alabama pulled pork for Permian Basin Bicycle Association (PBBA) cyclists to benefit Livestrong, the Lance Armstrong Foundation that supports cancer survivors.
And she was featured in The Learning Channel's BBQ Pitmasters Show, which is produced by John Markus, a "great writer" and pitmaster.
So far, the seminal event in her barbecuing career was volunteering for the United Service Organizations (USO) in joining other pitmasters, including Markus, in cooking beef brisket and chicken on Missouri-made Ole Hickory pits for thousands of troops at Camp Buehring, a staging post for American troops fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Camp Arifjan, a forward logistics base, in Kuwait.
Wearing her Alpine-made Montana cowgirl hat, Davenport told the USO that she was honored to cook barbecue "for the men and women in uniform fighting for freedom everyday over here." She expressed gratitude for "their hard work and hope that the home-cooking is comforting for them."
The troops cheered to her "Howdy, Y'all," Texas greeting with the tip of her hat.
And at Camp Arifjan on her 40th birthday in September, 3,000 soldiers sang "Happy Birthday" to her.
"I just melted," she says. "I said I wasn't going to cry. I was like a pond."
Now that she has made that long, circular route in "coming back home," she is able to "redefine who you, and you come back a different person. And you hope people accept who you are. I struggled for a long time, coming back, trying to be the rancher's daughter. At some point, you have to carve out your own niche."
Among foremost quests on her Bucket List is earning the right to call herself, Freida, her first name, for she is named after her mother and generations of grandmothers. She would be Freida V as the fifth generation bearing the Freida name, which stands for peace or peaceful.
"I think you've got to be able to ride, shoot, rope and look like Barbara Stanwyck before you can be called Freida," says Freida Nicole Davenport.
Her mother is a definite Freida.
"You've got to put your own stamp on what you love to do," the daughter said. "And I love cooking. And if I can make a living at what I love doing, I'm happy."
Somewhat akin to the George Bernard Shaw adage about the love of food is the Russian proverb that surely appeals to the Freida V in Nicole Davenport and which surely would get Shaw's nod: "It's not the horse that draws the cart, but the oats."