Tim Byres: Cooking With Smoke
Rizzoli Releases Tim Byres’ Smoke: New Firewood Cooking
Deep in the heart of Dallas, chef Tim Byres has been producing soulful Texas cuisine at his acclaimed restaurant Smoke since 2009. Now, Rizzoli has released Smoke: New Firewood Cooking ($40), in which Byres not only provides recipes to his innovative dishes but also teaches readers how to do everything from cleaning crabs to building a home smoker. Here, he clears the air with In Season.
Why is America crazy about the flavor of smoke now?
It’s a return to the basics. Smoke is primal and nostalgic. People are also so in touch with their food from a natural and organic perspective that it makes sense to cook in a similar format. Most importantly, it’s a lot of fun and attracts a few friends around to celebrate, which is primal, as well.
How long have you been working with this trend, and what innovations have you created?
I have been seriously down this road for about six years now, so it’s more of a lifestyle at this point. My professional background was really high-end since I graduated from culinary school, but this is my roots and my calling. I have always had a burning desire to express my interpretation of real American food, and cooking over fire is where I have found myself. Resourcefulness and an open mind allow me to honor old recipes while presenting them in today’s light. I build a lot of stuff as well to get the job going, so my book goes into detail with diagrams for contraptions, grills and old-world smokehouses. Fun stuff.
What are your favorite foods to smoke, and what are your favorite recipes in the book?
Honestly, it varies all the time. Whole pigs or beef brisket are real crowd pleasers, but sometimes the quick and simple things win out. I love all the oyster dishes in the book: Roasted, stewed and Dirty Fried Rice are awesome, real Gulf cooking. The ash salsa where the vegetables are cooked directly in the coals is a showstopper. The smoked cabrito and masa pies are stunning with the goat’s milk cajeta and salsa verde recipes. The section on how to work with dry chiles for marinades or sauces is a backbone of strong flavor building for the grill. Pickles are a big part of it, as well: Abrasive flavors like smoke need sharp, acidic veggie balances.
How is the style different in various parts of the country?
It’s wonderfully different. BBQ or grilling is the common thread that binds us, and the addictive flavor of smoke crosses boundaries. I see it in Mexican foods, the many different regions of Texas, Deep South soul food, Louisiana, and all the way to New England with beach lobster bakes. Everyone somewhere is cooking with fire.
How difficult will the home cook find it to accomplish these recipes?
It’s meant to demystify the ‘I can’t do this at home’ idea about firewood cooking. I show how it can be done and that there are all these different levels to take it to. It’s about finding your ‘food voice,’ cooking from the heart and having fun with friends. And if you don’t want to make homemade tortillas today, buy some and enjoy the carnitas. I also hope readers will customize my recipes to suit them. That’s the lifestyle part of it.
What other food trends are you observing now?
The focus is going more and more minimal, just fresh, clean flavors. There is a new generation of cooks and consumers who are looking for a balance.
“This is my roots and my calling.”