This may come as a surprise, but Santa is actually an award-winning cook.
When Bear Sloan isn’t filling in for Santa, taking photos with boys and girls in downtown Gainesville, he’s busy cooking chili and barbecue at his restaurant, Lazy Bear BBQ.
Sloan opened the restaurant on McEver Road in Gainesville nearly 10 months ago.
He’s been successfully competing in cookoffs around the area for the last eight years.
Sloan said he’s always loved to cook, and he’s not bashful about his "golden touch" in the kitchen.
He said it all started when he wanted to improve on chili recipes. He’d take old recipes and swap ingredients until he’d made something all his own.
He’s come up with some interesting recipes over the years, including "Bear’s Surprise."
Sloan laughed saying the Jalapeno Bacon Chili is called a surprise because "it’s a surprise if you survive it."
The secret to becoming a great cook is trial and error, he said.
While most pitmasters keep their recipes and kitchen tips under lock and key, Sloan said he’s happy to share anything he knows — anything except his barbecue sauce recipe.
"When you go into a competition, these people take it serious. They won’t tell you nothing. I’ll tell you anything you want to know because you got to learn somewhere," Sloan said.
Sloan put his barbecue skills to the test in September at the Atlanta BBQ Festival where he competed against three other Georgia teams on the Destination America Channel show "BBQ Pitmasters."
Out of 1,000 team entries to the show, only three were chosen.
Sloan said he thought it must have been a joke when the show’s producers called to offer him a place on the show.
"I kept waiting for the ball to drop but it never dropped," Sloan said.
Sloan and his wife, Martha Sue Reed, competed against two other Georgia teams. One team was from Macon, the other from Dublin.
Sloan said he found the competition to be a little "funny."
Especially the "young’uns" from Dublin.
"They talked a big game but when it comes down to it, they can’t back it up. I learned a long time ago not to talk smack if you can’t back it up," Sloan said.
Reed said Sloan has always had a talent for cooking.
"He’s got the best (food) there is. We’ve competed against a lot of teams, a lot of big names and he’s stacked right up there with ’em," Reed said.
While it might seem reasonable to be a little nervous with a camera watching your every move, Sloan said he just simply wouldn’t let him self get nervous and "screw it all up."
"It was difficult in what we had to cook. You had too many choices on how to cook and get it right," Sloan said.
Though he can’t reveal which team won on the show, Sloan said the show’s crew only ate the food he cooked.
"I’m very particular when it comes to barbecue. I seen them cooking it and I didn’t want none," Sloan said with a jolly laugh.
The highlight of the event, Sloan said, was when one of the judges, Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South BBQ, opened his box of ribs.
"He opened mine up and looked at it and said ‘Now that’s what I call barbecue. That looks just like my daddy’s barbecue.’ The hairs on the backs of my arms rose up because he gave me a compliment. And he don’t do that," Sloan said.
Reed said she’s optimistic about what the show will do for the new business and hopes there will be more opportunities for Bear to be in other television shows.
"This show is going to put Gainesville on the map," Sloan said laughing.
The show will air at 9 p.m. Dec. 23, on Destination America Channel, which is 167 for Charter or 194 for Dish.
Reed said Sloan might come across as hard-nosed at times, but underneath he’s a softy.
She said his real passion in life is children. He purchases gifts for underprivileged children in the area with the money he makes taking photos as Santa.
"You think barbecue is great, but there ain’t nothing better than a kid coming up and looking you in the eyes and just knowing you are Santa," Sloan said.