By MATT CRANE
With fall weather beginning to settle in and the reality of a winning Mississippi State University football season in the air, many Starkville residents and transplants will find their way to the MSU campus for the sport’s biggest compliment: tailgating.
For Kat Hester, the joys of tailgating come from the collective work done by each member of her game-day team.
“Each individual contributes to the many different components, working together to pull off a production that we will all enjoy,” she said. “Sometimes, friends from afar can make the trip and sometimes our grown children are able to join us.”
Hester said it is the mixing and matching of these entities — food and people — that make the experience so enjoyable.
“The random collective works out at every game,” she said. “The ‘casserole’ of personalities varies, yet the ‘flavor’ is consistently seasoned with the basics — the arts, education and SEC sports.”
Kris Lee, MSU lecturer and local playwright, contributes to the tailgate Hester helped establish and said his love for tailgating stems from the sense of community one can feel on game day.
“I love tailgating simply for the community, the camaraderie, the ‘neighborhood’ feel you develop over time, in the same place, with fellow tailgaters,” he said. “It’s fun to mingle and share recipes and food,” he said.
When it comes to the specifics of setting up the tailgate, however, Lee said he insists that Hester holds all the answers.
“I think Kat can better answer the hassle of getting the tailgate together,” he said. “That’s God’s work, right there, that she’s doing.”
Hester said setting up a tailgate will require time and planning, and organization is the key.
“Networking with the regular Tailgate Team in this day and time is easy with texting or email, but you can’t leave anything behind so printing out tailgating lists from the internet is a must,” she said. “With that in hand, one can have their tailgate packed up and ready for game day. After the initial experience, I use my lists to replenish the tubs containing all the staples.”
For MSU’s game against Tennessee last Saturday, bringing the Bulldogs to a 6-0 record, Lee debuted a brand new dish that he said was inspired by a recent acquisition of sweet potatoes from his Uncle Larry.
“I love the taste of sweet potatoes, so I googled some recipes and came across one that seemed simple enough,” he said. “I lucked up, and it was quick and delicious. When it comes to tailgating, you don’t need to hear anything more than that.”
Lee said the dressing that complimented his dish required an impromptu revamp.
“The dressing I made up because I forgot to get lemon juice, but I think they married well because, honestly — this is the South — all you really need is mayonnaise,” he said. “So, I put a little in with the Jezebel sauce and Goddess dressing, and made some magic.”
Hester said the individuality of each tailgate offers everyone gathered on game day to show off a personal style and connect through the community tailgating creates.
“Everyone’s tailgate makes its own statement about who they are with a variety of visual and functional props,” she said. “The diversity and inclusiveness makes ‘Dawg City’ a sensory experience, connecting us to each other.”