Paul Petersen is a dichotomy- he is a seemingly arrogant, brash know it all chef on the TLC BBQ Pitmasters show however he was a gracious friendly down to earth self humouring person I really enjoyed speaking with. I would never call him humble but he certainly has the culinary accolades to back up his bravado. He now has a sincere appreciation of the challenges of competition BBQ.
If you look back onto his career of work you would be surprised to find how many accolades have been bestowed upon him. He was the former drummer for San Antonio bands Gollum and Scary Manilow then decided to switch to cooking. He trained at the CIA in Hyde Park New York. After graduating from the institute he settled in New York City, working in and progressing successfully up the line at a series of popular spots: Union Square Cafe, An American Place, The Red Cat.
He has been nominated for a James Beard award. He has been written up in many publications including being listed as #34 in Esquires top 100 in 2007. He was Tobascos Chef of the year in 1998. Do a google search of Chef Paul Petersen and 119,000 hits will come back at you. He has run multiples of successful multi starred restaurants (little Texas Bistro, Gages/ Café Cenizo) and catering programs. He has taught culinary classes. He is a cookbook author. He is well thought of by many other chefs – Yet in the competitive BBQ world he is an unproven, unknown, DAL competitor (as of episode #3) who seems to have a lot of smack talk in him but not a whole lotta competitive BBQ knowledge. So why did he do it?
I know of a few chefs who have come into competitive BBQ just as he has done, brash arrogant and confident- thinking that there entire repartee of culinary knowledge will lead them to a Grand Championship on their very first turn out. I have also seen those same chefs seriously get their asses handed back to them on a platter. (I have personally had some pure moments of glee to see this happen first hand when I was on the receiving end of a chef who thought he is Gods gift to BBQ) They learn really quickly that while competition BBQ may seem so simple on the outset the complexities and nuances are vast and varied. It’s not as easy as they think.
I caught up with Paul as he was preparing for an insane night. He had 400 covers to prep for. Two hundred of those at Ricks Chophouse, and the other two hundred were catered in their private rooms.
Paul runs not one but two restaurants. The first as mentioned above is a destination restaurant- Ricks Chophouse. An elegant restaurant with restored press tin ceilings original lime stone walls (circa 1885) and deep mahogany walls. It is combined with private dining rooms, grand ballroom and Grand historical hotel. The other is Sauce on the Square just 60 paces away from Ricks Chophouse. Sauce on the Square – is an approachable Italian concept that looks towards more multiple visits during the week by its patrons.
*thanks to Lisa Reynolds from Bubble Gems for the picture
From the Sauce on the Square website:
Your culinary experience begins as you walk through the covered dining patio to the smell of dough rising in our Woodstone-fired ovens. Once inside, the dining room speaks immediately of the restaurant’s unique charm and sense of communal gathering. Banquette seating lines the century-old exposed brick wall, while red and white checkered table cloths, stained concrete floors, and classic Italian art set the stage for an approachable family dining experience.
The menu is created by celebrated Executive Chef Paul Petersen, who uses local farm-raised ingredients and neatly incorporates them into traditional Italian specialties. House-made cheeses, imported Italian flour, fresh tomatoes, prosciutto DiParma, herbs, and pastas speak volumes of the flavors you will enjoy. And, absolutely everything is served family style, enhancing the warmth and camaraderie of your experience.
As you transition through the dining room into the bar area, your group can visit on high-top cocktail tables or line the bar and watch the action. The open kitchen makes for a fun place to split a pizza, share pasta, or enjoy a few signature Bellinis!
The wine list is also a home run-50 labels of the best wines in the world for under $50 make it easy to try something new. Each wine was chosen by our Sommelier Brad Pyle with an appreciation for the artisan farmer where each bottle began.
And to think, you didn’t need a reservation! Located on Louisiana Street on the historic square, Sauce is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.
To say he is busy would be an understatement. He is extremely successful in his own world.
His quiet “office” where we did the telephone interview is outside at the back alley away from the hustle and bustle of the kitchen.
Q- How did you get involved with TLC BBQ Pitmasters?
PP- I had been approached a couple of years prior to TLC BBQ Pitmasters show to do an alternate BBQ related type of show. That didn’t pan out but I was still interested. I had cooked for John Markus a couple of times about a year and a half ago. We did a couple of tasting menus for him and he was blown away. I liked John a lot he was really cool.
Q-Had you ever done a BBQ competition prior to TLC BBQ Pitmasters?
PP- I had done an IBCA competition prior to the show and had placed 10th in Chicken.
Q- What did you think of the first few competitions that you participated in?
PP- It’s not my world. I am a hell of a Texan BBQer but it took a while to figure it out. The judges (where I competed) have not been exposed to my type of cuisine. I had to adapt to their style of cooking. It took a lot of change.
Q- If given the opportunity would you do the TLC BBQ Pitmasters show again?
PP- I don’t know. I would certainly like to go back and redeem myself and kick some asses. However my bosses have already been more than kind to allow me the 2 months I needed to do this show. With the additional restaurant and many other things coming down the line I just don’t know. I have so much on my plate already. If I go out again these boys are going to be in trouble. I would want to go out with a Jambo. I have a lot of respect for them.
Q- What do you think of the comments that have been posted about you on the various BBQ forums and articles?
PP- Well there are the hecklers, there are people that hate me and people that love me. Overall it doesn’t bother me. It’s just a bunch of BS. The people that were with us on the show and the people who eat in my restaurants know my real culinary skills. It was really hard adapting to the world of competition BBQ but I really did like it.
Q- Who was the first pitmasters on the show that helped you?
PP- Tuffy was the first he helped me a lot. He is a bad ass cook (he says this with sincere appreciation of Tuffy’s culinary skills as a BBQ’er and chef). So much he helped me. I appreciate it. He was the first who opened up to me. Told me I was cooking all wrong. He started helping me out. Listening to him for me was important.
Q- What was a favourite and least favourite part of shooting the show for you>?
PP- Meeting the people – it was great. The hailstorm was pretty wild. I did not sleep through that (he says laughing). I was hanging out with the people from the Slabs. We ended up holding their tent so it didn’t blow away (this wasn’t shown on the show). They were great people.
Overall the travelling was hard. It was a lot of travelling in 2 months. I have a 2007 Tahoe that now has over 100000 miles on it. I am going to get an F250.
Q- Any other special moments with people from the show you would care to talk about?
PP- Hanging out with Johnny and Trish Trigg was really special (Unfortunately I can’t tell the rest of what he says because I don’t want to ruin some possible future moments for the show.) I also really liked Jamie too he was funny, I loved his humour and he had the best lines. Overall we were this little gang of Texas people.
Q- As Texas is renowned for their BBQ Brisket – whose brisket did you like the most?
PP- Well I had Myrons brisket and to my taste- it was like Lipton soup mix. A lot of the competition brisket wasn’t what I was used to. I was disappointed in my brisket a lot. However there was one who I thought rocked it Tommy from Checkered Pig. He is killer. I hold him in high regard. Best brisket ever on the BBQ tour out of anyone. At the competition we were at he only took 3rd. I was so confused by this his was far the best I had. He is so cool. He is a genuine guy. It didn’t hurt that he also set me straight on a few things.
Q- How would you label yourself cocky? Arrogant? Confident?
PP-Confident – that’s an accurate description cocky can come off as arrogant – I am just confident of my abilities. I am accomplished in my own world I just don’t need to throw it in their faces. I was good at putting on what they wanted to see.
Q- What was the inspiration behind keeper of the flame (his interactive cookbook)?
PP-Keeper of the flame- The name came from an article from Texas Monthly.
It was a huge deal in Texas. It was a 7 page spread on me. Freaked me out they don’t do it for chefs typically. It kind of stuck. The cookbook is very innovative – Online approach that gets updated frequently. Originally I had done a similar concept with 50 other Texas chefs. We pushed it out early to capitalize on the popularity of the TLC BBQ Pitmasters show.
Q- What’s the biggest challenge in running a restaurant.?
PP- For us its consistency (just like in Competitive BBQ) we want the same product to go out the door. I have so many employees and we need to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Q- What is your favourite BBQ food to eat?
PP- Ribs are still my favourite. I like a good Texas brisket. Personal favourite Kreuz Market or Smitty’s both of them. They are the same deal. Same family. However I have not eaten at Louie Mueller. It’s all real BBQ.
Q- Who do you think will be the next chef in Texas to come up the ranks since you are now established?
PP-I would have to say David Bull – He is my favourite Texas chef. I would put him up against anyone in North America.
Q- Do you still play drums?
PP-I don’t take it as seriously as i used to. For me its stress relief. I am a precise drummer. I hit them with finesse and rock out.
Q- Other than the restaurants what else do you have in the New Year?
PP- I am really excited about an event we are doing on January 15th, 2009. We will be on a stage on jumbo trons and we are going to do a BBQ throwndown Texas Style. It will be a benefit for the sustainable food center.
Three of Texas’ youngest and most acclaimed chefs – David Bull, Shawn Cirkiel, and Paul Petersen will go head to head in a high-energy, fun event with great food, live music and a competition that’s interactive and exciting.
W/ DJ, el john Selector spinning bad-to-the-bone soul, funk and world beats
You can find Chef Paul Peterson on Twitter
He also has a fan page on facebook.
****Again, special thanks to Diva Q for letting us run her BBQ Pitmaster interviews****