Behind the Barbecue: Meet the Kovacs

By Sandra Sperounes

Barbecuing isn’t just a hobby, it’s a way of life for Esther and Ross Kovacs.

For the past 10 months, the two have shared their grilling adventures with 4,500 members of AMA’s Backyard BBQ—a group where barbecue enthusiasts connect with each other and Alberta producers and growers for tips, recipes and inspiration.

Ross has shared more than 50 posts and 335 photos of the couple’s tantalizing meals (and wine selection!)—from steak tenderloin to lobster tails to duck breasts. Whether it’s a hot day in July or a frigid evening in February, his posts are always cheery missives from their farm in the central Alberta community of Ricinus. The Kovacs live there with their two bulldogs, Cleo and Malcolm, also affectionately known as their “official wine taster.” (He enjoys most reds—he’ll sniff a glass and then lick the air above it.)

“Very windy but semi-warm day today in Ricinus Alberta,” Ross writes on February 20.

“Started the evening meal with a couple of gin and tonics while getting stuff ready. The burgers are from Caroline Meats in downtown Caroline, Alberta. Fried mushy, toasted buns and a Maltese tomato onion salad. The burgers were perfect— very little shrinkage and tender. Great night when we can barbecue.”

Facebook post by Ross Kovacs with photos of gin and tonics and burger patties on barbecue grill

Esther and Ross cook outdoors as often as possible, having built a backyard kitchen that includes a gas grill, smoker and a pizza oven. She’s always preferred cooking over an open flame—her dad owned a hunting/guiding business and she grew up in a log lodge with wood-stove cooking and heating. The Kovacs also like to explore the cuisines of different cultures—Ross has worked in oil and gas around the world and hopes to soon build his own asado, a backyard grill used in Argentina.

“We love the outdoors,” says Esther. “Even if it’s -30 C, we don’t hesitate, we’ll barbecue. We love food, we love to collaborate and make something special out of very simple ingredients.”

The Kovacs grow some of their own vegetables, such as swiss chard and potatoes, and hunt some of their own meat. But if you’re a frequent Backyard BBQ visitor, you’ll know Ross makes regular trips to Caroline Meats in the nearby town of Caroline—he appreciates the selection, the natural ingredients and the personal touch of the owners.

“They have great quality cuts and meats,” he says. “Shopping local is very important to us. Local businesses are our lifeline, particularly now.”

orange cat snuggling a bulldog as they stand on a snow-covered deck
The Kovacs’ bulldog, Malcolm, with a feline friend

Ross did the bulk of the shopping and cooking last year. Esther was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2020 and needed chemotherapy, radiation and two surgeries. Ross worked from home—one of the positives of the pandemic—and looked after her as she recovered.

“He really stepped up to plate,” she says. “He calls himself the scullery maid but he’s also the chef and the shopper. He’s taking care of everything.”

Esther’s cancer is now in remission and she enjoys helping with meal preparation and taking photos of the delicious results. She’s an artist—she paints and teaches watercolours— and every August, she usually hosts an art show on their farm, where she displays and sells her paintings.

“Food is my next favourite medium,” she says. “I love cooking. I also love photography—arranging the ingredients, like the different spices, that we acquire from different countries.”

Smiling older couple wearing winter clothes in a birch forest
Esther and Ross enjoying a sunny day

The Kovacs enjoy sharing their photos and recipes with AMA’s Backyard BBQ and connecting with other members about their feasts. “There are some people in the group who make some tremendous meals—like smoked octopus— and I’ve picked up a couple of tips,” says Ross. “I’ve asked questions in the group and boy, you get such nice responses. Nobody makes fun of you.”

Esther is more philosophical about the community. People aren’t just posting snaps of their food, they’re also sharing their lives.

“When I paint or do photography, it captures a moment in time,” she says. “When I see an individual photograph what they are preparing for their family for dinner, it really inspires and intrigues me—it’s their moment in time. It’s something they cared about, took the time to make and wanted to photograph. I think it’s absolutely precious that they share their moment of time with others.”