Honouring Joel

Yesterday I turned 44. 4 tens and 4 ones. As you age, it seems increasingly difficult to see those number rise and understand your value and worth against your impressions of the age and the awareness of your mortality. This year’s birthday came with a gratitude and peace that gave me a different perspective.

Today I attended the funeral of a 20 year old man. Joel was an employee of ours at Red Gum BBQ who died, tragically, driving home from our workplace, a week and a half ago. Joel was a kind and gentle soul who seemed to always have a smile on his face. He did a number of jobs at Red Gum – from dishes, to supporting the kitchen, helping clean pits and handle deliveries. No job was too big, no ask was too hard and no length too far to travel. Joel was the warm, friendly face greeting you wherever you were. Polite, cheeky, easy. These are some of the ways I remember him and some of the ways he was described today at his funeral. His funeral.

 Joel, on a sunnier day.

Joel, on a sunnier day.

First thing Sunday morning we got the call from his brother, who also works with us, to tell us the awful news. Joel left work and just minutes from us, hit a tree on the side of the road, losing his life instantly. There is no greater explanation, no reason or rhyme to this great tragedy. No sense to be made from the destruction of a family, the loss of this young man and the heartache of all who knew him.

I spent the next couple of hours in a spin wondering how I would communicate this news to our Red Gum family. To all of the people who worked most closely with him, to all who knew him in our building and to all who called him friend. How could I tell the Chef who worked alongside him that evening, the friend in the kitchen who knew him since childhood, the waitress who walked out the door with him and followed behind him in her car by just a minute? I knew this would be information that would deeply affect some, if not all who heard it. I googled ‘what to do when an employee dies’ – FYI: Google doesn’t know everything. I felt an intense pressure to ensure we were doing what was right. But what is right?

As the morning went on, and news of Joel’s death was being reported in the media we knew our time to share it carefully and collectively was dwindling. We had a few hundred booked in for the day and I wore my business owner hat too – I didn’t know what any of this would mean. We just needed to honour Joel’s news as best as possible and put one foot in front of the other. I spoke privately to some and felt their intense grief. We gathered the rest, moving through the building asking everyone to stop and come to the kitchen. It was 12pm and the restaurant was full. The response was as you could imagine. This was an impossible piece of news to share and more awful to hear.

 The crew.

The crew.

What happened next over the coming hours was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen. Our people cried. And hugged. And hearts were breaking across our space and beyond. But they waited tables, they seated, they smoked and smiled, they served and supported each other. They huddled in corners hugging. They took long trips to the bathroom. They wiped their tears on their sleeves and soldiered on. Now I know we’re not in a hero’s field. We’re not saving lives and we’re not protecting the common good. But if standing, unflinching in grief and smiling for your friends and a sense of duty is noble, these are our Kings and Queens. Nobody wanted to leave. We asked, even encouraged some to go. But they stayed on and extended love and support to everyone around them. Martin and I watched on in awe. Our leaders extended hands of strength and support, as Captains do. People half my age supported me with a strength and resilience and wisdom I couldn’t have imagined. They shared in their sadness, gave smiles to our guests and stood strong in news that would shake any 44 year old, let alone an 18 year old, being touched by loss for the first time.

The next days and week have been similar. Hearts continued to break and loss continues to be felt. We still can make no more sense of this. Each of us is processing in our own way. Some pain is palpable and some hidden away. We have sentimental, hearts on their sleeve folk, and stoic, pragmatic types. I don’t know what each of them needs or how to fix it. I also understand, logically, that’s not my job. But it’s hard to not feel that these are my family, my responsibility and the joys and pains we experience there, mine to navigate. For someone who likes to think her way out of confusion, this one is proving difficult. It’s hard to see and understand when you’re in the middle of the thing. 

But I wanted to share our heartbreak. To honour Joel in some small way. To tell our community about our loss and of the beautiful young man who was taken from this world far too early. I’m not sure what lessons there are to be learned here – I suppose time will reveal those.

 44 and Blessings

44 and Blessings

What I know is that 44 seems quite the privilege. This is one of those reminders, that comes at far too great a price, that life is much more than the silly things that distract us every day and age and health and love are gifts and essential practices. I’ll hope for peace for Joel’s family and for the people I know struggling with his loss. I’ll hope that we can be what they need from us but I’ve seen their strength and their wisdom and I am in awe of it. Joel, you are missed and you are loved.  

Starting at the end.

We use free range and grass fed meats, exclusively. But how do we ensure that this process is humane and ethical? It seems impossible. But in ensuring we understand and make the right decisions, we’re taking the journey and reporting it to you. On this occasion, I use the word ‘challenged’ in my video to mean, I STRUGGLED. Today’s visit was totally confronting. But knowledge is power and with it, we can make better decisions for us, for you and for our world. Phew.

The Meaty Truth at Red Gum BBQ

So here’s the thing about meat. That you may or may not be aware of. It’s a complicated industry, to put it lightly. One where, throughout recent history, most of what has been available to the masses has been sourced in a not very ethical and not very sustainable way. And did you know that an estimated 97% of Australian’s pigs are raised indoors with no access to the outside? Making doing their regular pig thing impossible. This leaves just 3% of pigs that are described as free range or organic. Pathetic statistic.   

Here's this guy with a cowboy hat who tries to explain it to us: 

Aussie dude in cowboy hat explaining Free Range

In this minefield of an industry there are the animals and the farmers, the distributors and the buyers and the consumers. There are free range, bred free range, grass fed & grain fed. There are bio shelters and factory farms and cages and pastures; there are RSPCA, Free Range, Organic and industry accreditations. Making sense of it all seems pretty much impossible. I ask a lot of questions but the answers are anything but clear.

Here's a graphic that tries to explain some of the most well known accreditations. Within these, there seems to be lots of movement between brands and farms and... fuzzy enough? 

 https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/meat-fish-and-eggs/meat/articles/free-range-meat-labels

https://www.choice.com.au/food-and-drink/meat-fish-and-eggs/meat/articles/free-range-meat-labels

So here’s another thing, that you may know but if you don’t here it is: We care a LOT about all of this. And want very much to be doing our best, as participants in this complex industry, to ensure that not only is the meat we source ethical, but that we are also contributing where we can to strengthening and promoting those within the industry who feel the same.

I remember the first conversation Martin and I had about our commitment to exclusively using free range meat. We agreed that as animal (and yes, meat) lovers, we didn’t want to contribute to an industry that was not caring for the wellbeing of the animal. This was not always an easy choice, in fact, it’s been more hard than easy, by far. For the many years our little BBQ venture was making a loss, it seemed an easy option to cut our costs in half and go with the factory farm, feed lot option. Everyone else was doing it and our consumers probably wouldn’t notice or care. But we didn’t. Because it was a commitment we made and one that we felt defined so much of what mattered to us. Because it was the right thing to do for the animals and for our planet. And because we were sure that if we could find a way to communicate the importance of it to our consumers, they too would share our passion and be willing to pay more for this better product. 

So we continue to plough ahead with understanding and improving our connection to this promise.

Here are some of the highlights (and lowlights) of this journey for us so far:

  • In 2013 Martin spent about a billion hours (fact) on the phone trying to find someone who could source free range pork and chicken and grass fed beef of the quantities and specs we wanted. We could find grass fed beef and free range chooks, but finding pork was endlessly difficult and initially, for a brief period, we settled on a bred free range product. In this instance, we were working directly with the farmer and believed in value she placed on the ethical treatment of her animals.   
  • In 2015 we finally found a supplier who could source us wholly free range pork products of the specs and quantities we required. From 2015-2018 – we moved between a couple of distributors who connected us to farmers like Borrowdale in QLD who provided an amazing product but still, we felt disconnected to the process and wanted to know more about where our meat was sourced and how it came to us. We continued to seek a direct farm to plate relationship and one that would cut down on our food miles.
  • In 2018, we began working with Adam from Hopkins River Beef. He and his partner are based on the Peninsula but own farms across Victoria and process the meat at a plant nearby that they have invited us to visit. Having a relationship with Adam means we get to ask him directly about the animal, their processes and connect more deeply to our food. Adam is passionate about ethical farming so this relationship makes sense.
  • Just this last month we moved to a new distributor who shares this same philosophy on ethical farming and ethical businesses. And they are providing us free range pork from farms in Victoria that gives us the opportunity to cut down our food miles and connect to the farms in a more meaningful way. 
 Cows eating grass. #doingtheirthing

Cows eating grass. #doingtheirthing

So the reality for us is that meat eating and caring about animal welfare DO coincide. For most of us, in fact. And ethical farming and the meat industry need us to say that it matters. The more we do and the more you do through choosing to purchase these items, the more this will be the norm. 3%. Not good enough.

So where to from here?

  • We’re planning a trip to the farm. I wanna see it all.
  • And the abattoir. Yes, the abattoir. All. 
  • We’ll continue to seek a direct paddock to plate relationship for free range pork in Victoria.
  • We’ll continue to shout from the rooftops the importance of ethical farming and will maintain our exclusive commitment to it.
  • We’ll continue to get better at and learn more about how we can be more ethical in our use of food at Red Gum.
  • We’ll continue to ask you to care about it too and to ask your butchers and your supermarkets for it.

And in the meantime – talk to us about our meat. Where do we get it from, how do we smoke it and why does it taste so good (cause obviously, healthy, happy pigs make yummy pork).  Hold us to account and spread the word. Ethical farming matters. Free range matters. Supply and demand – let’s expect more, support farmers doing it better and help to create a more competitive free range industry where everyone benefits! Get on board!

Now, who’s up for some ribs?!  (too much?) 

 

 

 

 

Ratings, Reviews and Redemption: Easter 2018

Red Gum BBQ in its first year of existence has received much praise, lots and lots of folks love the food, the building and the culture of the business. This has overwhelming been the response. I go to work each day amazed and humbled that people come to spend their time with us and enjoy our hospitality. This is what drives me to continue to learn, research and create the best BBQ I possibly can. I dream of brisket, I spend hours thinking about wood, the species, the burn time, its moisture content and how this makes my food smoky, tender and juicy. I am enrolling in a welding course, so I can build my next pit. I want to build my own cooker, to my specifications, from years of trying to master the art of low and slow and always wanting things to work just a little differently. Stay tuned as I will be chronicling that journey. I live and breathe BBQ, the smoke, the early starts, prepping meat and cooking for hours. I love it and I pour my heart and soul into it. There are no short cuts in the way I cook my Q. It’s cooked by hand, with wood, time and love.

What I have found and continue to find difficult is this idea ratings and reviews. I think this started when I decided that I didn’t have the desire to compete in BBQ competitions. The thought of spending hours cooking and pouring my blood, sweat and tears into my BBQ and then being critiqued… what if the judges thought it was crap? I would be devastated. In the words of my friend and great Pitmaster from Georgia, Mr Bryan Furman of B’s Cracklin’ BBQ, I ‘cook for people and not judges.’ My focus has been on creating the best BBQ I could. And my measure of success is if folks come back again and love what I create - that's my reward. 

Martin Pit.jpg

But actually, it turns out that having a BBQ joint is the ultimate way to be judged and critiqued. Every day you open your doors to the public is an opportunity to be scored, rated and reviewed. I never claimed to have the best BBQ, but I endeavour every day to create the most authentic BBQ I can. Some days I nail it, the combination of that piece of meat, the smoke, the heat, my timing in all the critical moments of the cooking process is perfect and the product is magic. We cook pork butts, briskets, pork ribs, beef ribs, chickens, sausages and sometimes others all at the same time and to a deadline - to get it out to my customers. Sometimes we win and what goes out into the restaurant is the BBQ magic. Sometimes just one of those elements from the core product to the smoke, cook time, resting or the rest is off and the product is less than perfect. Sometimes I or my pit team fall short and it breaks my heart. I want desperately for every person to get the best of what we do and every day I go into Red Gum thinking about and working toward making that happen. My sides are authentically southern, many are family recipes and I love them. We cut our fries by hand from potatoes that we have researched and tested. We cut, blanch, fry and serve every day. They are not bought in frozen, we make them each day, and did I mention they are cooked in beef fat. O.K fries are not O.K. We endeavour to make the best fries we can and sometimes we fall short, but we try our best.

I am so incredibly proud of my business, the food, the space, the look and feel, our ethics and of course my staff. It is better than I could have ever imagined, and my wife is to thank for that. We dreamed it up together, but she made it a reality. Anyway, what I am trying to get at is that Red Gum BBQ is an extension of me, my family, it is not a nameless faceless business but is owned by people who care, who feel and who have risked it all to follow a dream.

This leads me onto Easter 2018. Easter was tough, probably the most tough we have had it in a while. One of our key members of staff left us just days before the weekend, a number of our most experienced staff were granted leave without our knowledge, to say we were understaffed was an understatement. Melissa had to cover lots of shifts and worked herself into oblivion, but she is a legend and soldiered on, never wanting to let me or others down. We have had a lot great press recently, we were on Channel 9’s Postcards, we have had a Broadsheet, a Herald Sun and an Urban list article written about us and there has been a bit of a buzz surrounding the business for quite some time. This combination of factors colluded to create the storm that was Easter 2018. We were busy, super-duper busy, in fact the busiest we have ever been. Many folks who came had a wonderful time, they ate, they laughed, they were merry. They told us how much they enjoyed themselves, how they loved the food, the vibe and that they would be back with all their friends. And some, did not.

That feeling of knowing that you are doing your best and that you are falling short is tough to take. Flogging yourself and knowing that you failed is painful, the desire and want to do right by people and not being able to do so, is agonising. Whilst many had great times the ones that did not haunt you. In the days that followed Easter we heard from people who didn’t enjoy their time with us. They called, sent emails, wrote facebook messages, reviews via facebook, Trip Advisor, Google Business and Open Table. Where we could hear it, we heard it. They left their one-star review and essays about why their experience was less than average. They told us why we sucked. Some considerately, most, far from it. They were angry and frustrated and accusatory. We were 'greedy' and 'horrible' and 'misrepresented ourselves on Postcards in order to manipulate people.' And many had lots of valid points. We know that some food went out colder than it should due to not having enough runners. Sometimes drinks came after meals because we were short staffed, the toilets got neglected due to being under the pump and focusing on bodies and food in front of us. I am sorry about that. Sincerely and honestly. I am sorry that we ran out of meat and ruined people’s dinner plans. I know a 15% surcharge on a public holiday is a lot, but our staff need to get paid by the award rate and if we don't do this on these days, we can’t open. I know glasses were backed up as our dishwasher broke down and kept tripping the circuit breaker. I know that our fries weren’t up to standard as the busyness consumes and standards drop. I know that the Red Gum experience was not what I demand it to be and that my offering was diminished and for this I am honestly and genuinely sorry.

Every 1 star review I receive I take personally, I read it, I lament, and I learn. Today we had a leadership meeting purely focused on Easter 2018. We read every piece of negative feedback - from the food, to the building, to the service and it hurt, it was painful. What was interesting though was that there was no blame but rather solutions. We all recognised that this was not us, nor what we wanted to be. Negative feedback can be hard to hear but I think what is important is to own and learn from your mistakes, in this moment we tried our best, but we fell short. We now have a plan and hopefully we won’t make the same mistakes again, but I can’t say for sure we will not. We will continue to grow, learn and do better.

 The people dissecting the bad and making good. 

The people dissecting the bad and making good. 

What I think is important is for reviewers to know that when their words are mean and bitter and that their anger and vitriol is palpable through their tone, people are hurt. There is a person who is working their butt off and more often than not they know where they have failed daring to try and it cuts deep. Feedback is great. Allow me to learn from your experience and I promise I will try to do better next time. I know that you might be angry, disappointed or upset, in that same situation I might be too but please don’t be rude or antagonistic as your thoughts are valuable and they may fall on deaf ears. In the age of Facebook, Trip Advisor, Google Business, it is all too easy to give a review that is negative, but I would encourage people to have the conversation with the business either at the time or later and for us to make things right rather than finding out via a poor review. We send out replacements and fix our mistakes when we're made aware of things. We'll do everything we can to make your experience wonderful when you're with us. Give us that opportunity. And if you want to leave a review, imagine that you are standing in front of us - the people who built this business from nothing to something and speak with us in mind. Speak like you would if we were there with you. 

We will continue to pursue our dream, dare to be brilliant and not to take what we have for granted. And where we stumble and fall short allow us the privilege of redemption through kind and considerate conversation. We'll do the same for you. 

I am not much of quote man, but Melissa found one recently that is resonating with me now:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

- Theodore Roosevelt

We’re in the arena. And we accept that this exposes us to critics. We expect the best of ourselves and you should too. We have one simple request: Be kind.

A Thanksgiving Tale, from Miami to the Mornington Peninsula

Thanksgiving is all about family. More than Christmas - that's been tainted by rampant consumerism and tales of flying reindeer (don't get me wrong, we love it) - Thanksgiving is about two of Red Gum BBQ's favourite things - family and food. 

The main attraction is the meal. End of story. And our tobacco chewing, Uncle Jimmy's inappropriate swearing. Oh, and women gossiping. When I think of Thanksgiving - I think of chaos. Of Mom or Grandma frantically cooking from the crack of dawn in their search of Southern perfection, surrounded by the other women in the family - while the men folk are firmly planted on recliners in front of the TV - beer in hand, watching the Thanksgiving Day football.  As a child I was just a spectator to all of this - shifting between sitting in on the family gossip, visiting Granddaddy on his recliner (a spot nobody but I was allowed to inhabit) or playing with Cousin Angie - usually wandering off, as children did then, exploring  new paths and creeks in the quaint Savannah neighbourhood, Grandma & Granddaddy called home.  While the hours passed over creaming and roasting, stories of family continued...Aunt Vic's dwindling, precious family heirlooms were lost forever to Cousin Kay.  The sad story of Uncle John, lost in the dead of night, found some days later, dead under a bridge (alcohol can get anyone). There's even a story of an ax-wielding ancestor but we're not allowed to talk about that - no seriously, we're not allowed to ever mention it. In and amongst the doom and gloom, there are conversations about pregnancy, infidelity and divorce. And whether the mash needs more mashing. 

 Everyone in position.

Everyone in position.

Lunch begins peaceful enough - with everyone sharing their reasons for being thankful. Traditionally this goes along the lines of - 'for the food we're eating, for the blessings of health' some mention of God... but as the wine and beers flow the responses become a bit more interesting and a bit more truthful (particularly when blessings are less abundant). Hopefully we make it around the table without someone being genuinely insulted. Unlikely.

The meal is the star attraction. The bird is ceremoniously carved by the elder male - who provides his singular input into the meal. My spot at the table was identified by the mayo jar sitting at the top, ready to put my turkey into a sandwich - an act that provided years of taunting by my brothers (who were professional taunters). I still have an extraordinary love of sandwiches - though have matured in my tastes and prefer gravy and dressing to bread for my turkey. 

On the table is the same casseroles we remember from year after year and that we may only have on this one day. Southern women pride themselves on a casserole and this meal is like the Superbowl of casseroles. The most controversial dish at the James/Cobb Thanksgiving table was Cheese & Peas. A simple dish of baby peas, chopped sharp cheddar, diced onion, mayo and salt and pepper. Served cold. My brother thought it was worthy of its white trash reputation. I thought it was heaven in a salad. I shared the recipe with friends over the years. Some loved, some recoiled. But everywhere Peas and Cheese went, excitement followed. We renamed it on occasion to Petit Pois au Fromage in order to class it up but this just felt fake. Cheese and Peas, I found out later, a classic Southern dish (of course it was, my grandmother and mother always made it) is what food should be. It is simple and real and makes no pretense otherwise. 

 Yes. Those are marshmallows.

Yes. Those are marshmallows.

What's apparent as the day goes on is that family, particularly from those across the wide US political spectrum and alcohol -  should really only get together once a year. And this time is Thanksgiving. When the love that binds us as family, with all of the shared history of lifetimes and generations - is what trumps all. 

And that pie heals all wounds. 

And that turkey, like shrimp, a' la Gump - can reinvent itself in endlessly, wonderful ways. 

And that nobody better eat the last cheese and peas. Or else. 

Today Thanksgiving in Australia looks a little bit different. Martin is intimately involved in Thanksgiving prep - he's the man on the meat, of course. And I'm on casserole duty. A tradition I happily indulge and one that connects me to Mom and Grandma and the Americans at home and abroad, busily pulling together the meal of the year. We still have casseroles, sweet potato with marshmallows and of course, Cheese & Peas. Where we can, we host our own Thanksgiving - or attend one with some expat friends. It's wonderful to now be able to share this with our little Aussie kids - who are learning that they have histories beyond these borders. We share stories of thankfulness and most importantly, take time to gather with friends and family over wonderful food - the trifecta of joy and life that is at the heart of all cultures and that reminds us of what is really important.  Pie.

 Our American/Aussie Thanksgiving

Our American/Aussie Thanksgiving

Southern Lovin BBQ Tour 2016 - So far so BBQ

I have been in the US now for about 2 weeks after flying from Melbourne via Brisbane, LA and onto Miami, a mammoth trip with two small children.

My wife as a native Floridian, born and raised in Miami, first requested we find Cuban food. So my first meal state side was black beans and rice and grilled chicken – so simple but somehow the Cuban flavours bring it to life and make you come back for more. After spending a couple of days in South Florida we headed to Disney, this part was for the kids but who knew Micky is a Pitmaster?! Disney rocks a Back Yard BBQ, ribs, brisket, pulled pork, fried chicken with all the ‘fixins. It was decent looking BBQ but not quite the quality I’m accustomed to but did get me excited about my travels and all the southern food to come. Ps. Disney World is awesome. At any age.

 Shrimp n Grits

Shrimp n Grits

Next stop: Amelia Island, Florida. My mother in law lives in Fernandina Beach, a small island community just outside Jacksonville. This is where our southern food adventure begins. This town is not about BBQ but all about shrimp. You see shrimp boats moored in the harbour here, straight outta Forest Gump. My first real Southern feed is Shrimp and Grits. My wife had been trying to convince me of grits for years, unsuccessfully. if you’re unfamiliar – they are cornmeal, a little like polenta, usually drowning in butter, maybe cheese, served warm and usually with breakfast. True Southern food! These grits were nestled under some shrimp, pan-fired in garlic and the winner was the white wine heavy cream andouille sausage gravy. Unreal. Nuff said. Other notable mentions have been the fried shrimp and hush puppies and the staple burgers and hot dogs on the fourth of July.

From Northern Florida, to Southern Georgia and Saint Simons Island and Southern Soul BBQ. We arrived mid-afternoon and decided to have dinner at Southern Soul. I introduced myself to the staff and am told to be there in the morning, 6am. Bring a meat probe, note book and pen.

 Southern Soul BBQ lunch crowd on a sweltering summer day.  

Southern Soul BBQ lunch crowd on a sweltering summer day.  

For dinner we ordered the St Louis style pork ribs, BBQ beans, mac and cheese, brisket, slaw and potato salad. Just a few things; the toddler is a big eater. Everything was top shelf - especially the ribs - ridiculously good. I go to bed just a little excited. I set my alarm for 5:15 am and jump on my purple beach bike that is at the house we rented and head to my first day at Southern Soul BBQ.

I roll up on my sick new ride and say g’day to my new crew. We get stuck in straight away, the pits are already up to temp. We are burning Oak which has been double split and is sitting outside the restaurant. They run four pits, three Lang reverse flow offsets and a rotisserie smoker. First job is to rub butts (don’t you love BBQ speak?), these get stacked in the rotisserie smoker, then briskets go in the first Lang, ribs and chicken in the second and the third pit is not being used today. I spend most of the morning prepping ribs and briskets. Service starts at 11am and before I know it we are getting smashed but it is a well-oiled machine, with Chef Leo at the pass, Big (that’s his name) slicing brisket and ribs, Terrance on sides, Dan on sandwiches, Joe and I smashing out prep and Q (yes, his name, Q cooks the Que) managing the pits. I spend most of my day answering questions about kangaroos and Australian BBQ.

 Me, Pitmaster Que and some burnt ends

Me, Pitmaster Que and some burnt ends

I leave at 3pm after picking Leo’s brain about service and hot holding and go home to see the family who have spent the day at the pool, hiding from the 100 degree Fahrenheit heat. Pizza for dinner tonight. Back at Southern Soul, 6 am tomorrow – more from me tomorrow night! 

Southern Lovin Barbecue Tour 2016

Join us on our Southern Lovin' BBQ Tour 2016! We'll be eating our way across the Southern US of A in just a few weeks time and you can follow along. What's the next best thing to escaping a cold and wet winter for a meaty, smokey summer BBQ adventure? Well, seeing pictures and hearing all about, of course! 

So the Red Gum BBQ Crew (aka, Mr & Mrs. Pitmaster and Pitmaster Jnrs.) are off to the states to visit family, friends and of course, hit up some BBQ joints. We are to do a whirl wind tour of Northern Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

 What I am most interested in is more than BBQ but also southern cooking in general. I hope to get some more family recipes, get info from about their favourite southern recipes, speak to chefs and cooks and of course learn from some awesome Pitmasters.

 I am off to work with Harrison Sapp, Pitmaster and owner of Southern Soul BBQ on Saint Simons Island in Georgia. This place what southern-style BBQ is all about! Named Best BBQ by Travel Magazine, Best Ribs by Southern Living Magazine and the rest. They have been kind enough to invite me along to hang out for a week and I'm just a little bit excited about this opportunity. I will be posting pictures and blogging so you can keep up to date with my BBQ adventure.

I will be coming home with some killer new recipes, techniques and knowledge that I will be showcasing at a one off event, Marty’s BBQ Return to Oz – tickets will be available soon.

Martin (Pitmaster and Southern cooking lover)

Realising a BBQ Dream

Once upon a time there was a girl from the South and her man from across the pond who had a dream of bringing BBQ to the masses. But more than just BBQ, we imagined the whole, real deal. The kind of venue, food, music, drink and people that created that special something. A place where people felt they were with family - where the meat, music and merriment was in plentitude - and where people left with full bellies and smiles on their faces. This was the dream that became Saturday Smoke. 

Sometime in 2013 we visited Commonfolk Coffee and were excited to find a place that we felt was really doing things right - or at least right in our very not-expert opinion. The space, the food, the feeling that you got when you walked in the door - like you could kick up your heels and make yourself at home. And let your kid eat off the floor - bonus. When we thought about where we would like to do a pop-up on the Peninsula - this venue was top on our list. Sam - the mastermind behind Commonfolk was so generous of his time, his advice and his space. After much consideration for how the event would come to life; Saturday Smoke was born in May of 2014. A night of Meat, Music and Merriment - where a 3-course family style dinner was presented amongst the wide open space, long bench tables and open air outside of the venue. 

We fed and fed - until people could be fed no more. We adorned tables with hessian runners and herb plants. Sourced local craft beers, wines and ciders and connected with our Peninsula roots. We got some of the best bluegrass and folk singers around to come add their strings, voices and soul to the night and by the end of the evening we knew we had made our little BBQ dream come true. What began as an unsure organiser, a hesitant but hopeful Pitmaster and Chef, a new and inexperienced staff and a room full of curious strangers - ended with a community of friends, of glowing compliments and of a thrilled and tired Mr. and Mrs. Pitmaster. This first Saturday Smoke turned into a monthly event - where we trialled a continuous stream of Southern cooking to overwhelmingly kind praise. But more importantly, what never faltered but in fact grew, was the sense of family and community we found in the event. We believe that BBQ brings people together and is best amongst friends and Saturday Smoke was the testament to this. This BBQ dream realised, we're onto the next! Saturday Smoke will live again. Watch this space. And stay tuned to see more of our dreams come true.