The sweet taste of failure

DC world record frybread attempt falls apart

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

TSAILE, Ariz., May 8, 2014

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(Times photo -- Donovan Quintero)

It took a village to create the world's largest frybread, sizzling away here in its custom-made frypan in Tsaile.

For one brief shining moment, the world's largest frybread sizzled triumphantly in its giant custom-made pan.

The hundred or so people gathered round it last Friday with rumbling stomachs witnessed history in the making.

Alas, the rest of the world will never know.

The 18 pages of rules sent to Diné College by the Guinness Book of World Records clearly stated the frybread would have to remain intact until it was eaten, and such was not the case. As the cheering studentbody officers watched their creation brown seductively, their faces started to fall.

One by one, it occurred to them: No one had thought of how to remove the six-foot-in-diameter monster -- their attempt at the first-ever world's largest frybread -- from the pan of sizzling oil.

Eventually a daring plan was concocted: One brave student would hold the behemoth bread in place with a piece of plywood while the others tilted the pan and poured off the 150 gallons of cooling oil.

Fortunately this was accomplished with no injuries. But when it came time to slide the giant disk onto another piece of plywood, disaster struck. As the crowd let out a collective gasp, the 150-pound monster, no stronger than your average bread, slumped into a mass of about 600 average-sized pieces of frybread.

The record was lost. But the famished crowd, some of whom had been there for hours, ate their fill. It was actually pretty good bread, in spite of the fact that no Bluebird flour was used.

"We couldn't afford it," explained Associated Students of Diné College President Robin McGee, who organized the effort.

McGee, covered in flour and sporting some minor splatter-burns, appeared unscathed by the failure.

"It was fun," she shrugged. "It was so weird!"

"I don't feel disappointed at all," echoed ASDC Treasurer Earlson Manson, who said the attempt set the club back about $1,100 in spite of dozens of donations. "It's just the first attempt. Next year they'll know better."

Succulent spectacle

The crowd of well-wishers, meanwhile, could only marvel at the whole spectacle.

"All the teamwork!" gushed English professor Debbie Robinson. "The students, the cafeteria staff, maintenance, our chief financial officer, even the art department (art professor Don Whitesinger had run to get a huge piece of canvas to slide the dough on to move it to the pan) all working together! It just shows you what we can accomplish when we all work as a team here."

Unfortunately, Diné College has no engineering department, and that was probably the missing piece of the team. But no matter. At least now the people at Guinness know what frybread is. And if some other Native college wants to make a stab at it, the groundwork is laid for a world-record frybread.

"When I called Guinness to ask them about it, their first reaction was, "What?'" recalled McGee. "I had to explain to them about frybread."

The record people then came up with a recipe to follow as well as an exhaustive list of regulations from their "giant foods" category.

McGee, who graduates this year, first conceived the idea of creating, and then going for, a frybread record two years ago.

"I thought, "How could we get student unity?'" she recalled. "'What could we do that the whole campus could get behind?'"

Frybread, apparently, was that thing.

"It's something not just Navajo, it's something all Natives have," said McGee, who is a Stockbridge-Munsee from Wisconsin.

They ended up using a Navajo-style recipe, however.

"I was like, "Where are we going to get the powdered milk?'" McGee said. "The Navajos were like, "Powdered milk?'"

Utah style

When the question of how to turn the bread came up, a student from Utah volunteered that in Utah, they deep-fry the dough, eliminating the need for turning.

The rules stated that the giant food has to be prepared identically to the normal-sized version, so doing it "Utah-style" was the ticket.

But how to fry the beast? The group checked into having a welding company make a giant fry pan, but the cost was prohibitive.

Then ASDC Secretary Amanda Means, whose mother works for Chinle Unified School District, hit on the idea of asking Chinle High School's Career and Technical Education Department for help.

Welding instructor JR Wagner caught the vision right away. "He was so helpful," said McGee.

By the time the date to attempt the record rolled around, the students had a beautiful, round seven-foot pan at their disposal, courtesy of their younger cousins at Chinle High.

Someone donated a load of firewood to heat it up.

Food Services Director Franco Lee offered the giant mixer in the college's kitchen, but even it was too small É the dough had to be mixed in three separate 50-pound batches, then kneaded together.

Starting at 4 p.m., it took a good four hours to mix the dough, shape it and fry it. Of course there were many frybread experts in the crowd hollering advice.

"It's too thick. They should whack it with a shovel," murmured on woman.

"Should have used Bluebird," clucked another.

There's always next year

The sizzling dough was held down in the oil and kept from popping with special implements created by the Chinle welding class, large disks on the end of curving poles.

It smelled divine, and everyone who watched the attempt missed dinner. You could actually hear people's stomachs growling.

Although the volunteers who worked on the project looked completely spent by the end of the day, there was already talk of trying again next year. Unfortunately, most of the crew will be graduating, so the next batch of record-attempters will have to review this year's attempt so they don't end up reinventing the wheel.

That won't be hard. Since Guinness required the whole process to be minutely documented, there are four hours of mouth-watering video footage.

Their toughest competition may be whichever college McGee ends up going to to finish her four-year degree in Native American studies and behavioral science.

"I may just take this with me," she said.

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