Extended Interview


You are credited with the invention of the nanogreen. Can you copyright a vegetable?

No, you can’t! That was kind of a joke put on there by Michael Clark from Planet Earth Diversified. Michael was trying to do something other than tomatoes. He started the hydroponic craze in the area.  I was buying them at Clifton Inn. He asked me what he could grow other than tomatoes. I said “I go through a ton of lettuces. You could do baby lettuce.” He asked me what baby lettuce was. You start to grow the lettuce and when they get big, you cut them and then they are baby lettuces. I use about three pounds a day. He came to me three weeks later with three bags of what we would call today microgreens. And I’m like, “My god, I’ve never seen them this small.” He said well I hope you like this because to get these three pounds it took me the entire greenhouse forty feet wide by a hundred feet long of hydroponics to get all of those lettuces. Well, it just so happens that Empire Seegs, the editor of Restaurant, had the salad and asked me what they were.  I said nanogreens and she took a picture and put it in the magazine. Michael likes calling them nanogreens because he thinks his are smaller than anyone’s in the world.

BBQ Exchange serves Virginia, Carolina, and Kansas City BBQ sauces. What are the distinguishing flavors?

Virginia doesn’t really have a BBQ style and in one way that’s unfortunate because I’d like to say we’re doing this really cool VA BBQ. And then there are all of these BBQ lovers. People are very passionate about BBQ. People do not have a problem saying to me “I am a BBQ man and I know my BBQ.”

When they would come to Fossets at Keswick Hall, I would do some molecular cuisine, spherical truffle or melon cloud or something real classical, and diners would suspect that I’m the real expert and they would eat it and be like “that’s unbelievable.” They just have some level of respect. But in a BBQ place, there is no respect until people eat. They taste it, and it’s really cool because when I first opened people would take a bite of the potato salad and be like “come on, not enough salt or not enough vinegar.” The next person would say it needs relish or needs onions, because everyone makes potato salad and has an opinion. The same thing with slaw.

We really listen to people, and we worked it until we felt like we got the best and then we kept those recipes. It’s a lot harder to do these things but because they are passionate, we know that some people love NC and other people hate it. And other people like Memphis or Texas. So we thought, let’s make our meat neutral but extremely tasty on its own and then have these different sauces for people who like different styles.  That’s basically how it came about.

Eastern NC is a vinegar sauce with spices. The Kansas City sauce is a ketchupy sauce with lots of spices and sugar. We do a sauce called Colonel Bacon that’s a mustard base sauce made with dark mustard and a lot of spices and bacon. It has a pound of bacon in every half gallon of sauce.  We think, why wouldn’t you want a bacon sauce on your pork? We are a pork place. We have a hot sauce called Hog Fire which came to me from above. I was writing a recipe – best time is night time. I was sitting by the fire in flannel pajamas and had this idea. But people still talk. We are working on a Memphis style sauce that has a lot of molasses so a little bit sweeter and more caramelized. We really try to listen.

Are you going to take BBQ Exchange on the road to the competition circuit?

Usually chefs who go into these BBQ competitions don’t do very well, but I’m hoping that my mentality is better. I really still feel like a beginner at BBQ. Since I’ve opened this year, I’ve cooked over 140,000 pounds of pork. I think that might qualify me as not so much a beginner anymore, but I still feel it because I’ve been cooking for 39 years now, and I’ve cooked everyday to be better than the day before. That’s how we’ve done this BBQ and people seem to like it.

Your pickle menu rivals the Peter Piper nursery rhyme.

Picked hot peppers. Garlic pickles. Spicy pickles. Horseradish pickles. Fried pickles. Mustard pickles. Pickled onions. Pickled green tomatoes. I take it you’re into pickling.

BBQ around the world always has some kind of pickle. Mexico has cochinillo pimiento. Then you go to Thailand and they have pickled cucumbers. India has picked radishes. Germany has the pork and sauerkraut and the sliced radishes that are pickled with sauce and so it really just goes together.

We didn’t want to just open a BBQ place that was like another BBQ place. If another BBQ place wants to be as good as us, they have got to be willing to work. We bake our own bread, we make our own sauces, and we make every side. We don’t buy any salads. We make all of our salad dressings. Most other places do a hybrid cooker which will be an electric or gas oven that has a hopper – they make good BBQ but it’s easy. You put your meat in, your set your temperature, you go home and you go to sleep.

To me there is nothing artisan about it. I understand why other people do it because they want to have a life but I don’t care about my life. I care about the food. I want it to be so old-school that people are just blown away. I want that feeling. We wanted this BBQ place, as simple as it, to have the same kind of vision as a place like Fossets would have. A place where everyone understands what we’re trying to do and where the end game is these people being really happy to be here. It’s a simple place; you sit at a picnic table.