We’ve reported to you the great accomplishment of the “Fatback Collective” Bar-B-Que team taking 3rd place in the “whole hog” division at the Memphis in May Competition last week. You can also read about it here where Leslie Kelly, reported for the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
And her follow up story here:
What you haven’t heard much about is the team itself. It’s a group of esteemed pitmasters, chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, writers and a 6th grade correspondent.
We are proud to present the Fatback Collective:
Nick Pihakis, Jim ‘n Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Birmingham, AL
Nick Pihakis began working in restaurants when he was just 19 years old. Twenty-five years and twenty-eight restaurants later, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, has become one of the South’s most respected restaurant groups. Nick’s commitment to traditional recipes, scratch-made integrity with no-short cuts, genuine community service, and a deep respect and appreciation for the people who play host to this great gathering now shines through across the country. Nick’s vision and the hard-work of thousands of others at Jim ‘N Nick’s has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation with consecutive nominations for Best Restaurateur. Nick has a passion for supporting local farmers and traditional foodways whenever and wherever possible and sits on the board of Jones Valley Urban Farm and, through Jim ‘N Nick’s is a strong supporter of The Southern Foodways Alliance.
Drew Robinson, Jim ‘n Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Birmingham, AL
A native of Alabama, Drew Robinson cultivated a love of traditional Southern food as a child but felt called to explore what was beyond his home region. Drew attended the New England Culinary Institute and after finishing there, moved to Northern California to work in restaurants, expanding his knowledge of technique and ingredient driven food. Settling back in Birmingham, Drew started working with legendary Southern chef, Frank Stitt at Highlands Bar and Grill where he rose through the brigade to become Chef de Cuisine. Chef Robinson yearned to apply his formal training to traditional Southern food and started working with Birmingham’s Jim ‘n Nick’s Bar-B-Que proving that when prepared with great ingredients and care, old, Southern standard recipes are just as special as food served in fine restaurants. Drew loves the ritual of preparing the fire, turning on some great blues music and cooking a pig overnight, waiting patiently for it to reach perfection.
Nicholas Pihakis, Jim ‘n Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Birmingham, AL
At the young age of 15, Nicholas Pihakis started working in his family’s business, Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. Working as a busboy, waiter, every station in the kitchen and even in the office helping with the accounting, Nicholas learned the restaurant business from the ground up. Taking time to attend Birmingham Southern, he played soccer for the college and studied Business Administration. After graduation, Nicholas went right back to work full time for Jim ‘N Nick’s where he went through their management training program and now moves throughout the organization train and open new stores. Nicholas’ love of great food and hospitality translates into a young man who is a talented restaurant man and a darn good cook. He’s doing his family and the family business proud.
Curious eater, accomplished writer and director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, John T. Edge is a champion of folks who bring good food to the table. Whether it’s food from a street cart or served on a white tablecloth, Edge views and tastes food democratically. Not simply celebrating taste, technique and experience, John T. sees through the food to the hands that prepared it, the story of where the person, the recipe and the ingredients came from and broadcasts that story to the rest of us. He’s authored numerous books, written countless editorial pieces for newspapers and magazines across America, he’s been nominated for five James Beard Awards and been inducted into the Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who in Food & Beverage in America.
Jess Edge, 6th grader, Oxford, MS
Jess Edge is a rising 5th-grader at Della Davidson Elementary in Oxford, Mississippi. Now 10, Jess says he ate his first solid food, a pork shoulder sandwich, in the parking lot of Spruce's BBQ, doing business in Griffin, Georgia, since 1938. Jess joins the Fatback Collective to offer much needed perspective and stability.
Donald Link, Herbsaint & Cochon, New Orleans, LA
Hailing from Cajun Country in Louisiana, Donald Link has been working in restaurants since he was 15 years old. The rich, historic flavors of his childhood whetted his appetite for more and he went on to attend the California Culinary Acadamy and to work in fine Bay Area restaurants. His time in San Francisco taught him not only great culinary technique, but also a true appreciation for the raw ingredients that go into each dish. He returned to New Orleans ready to integrate his new knowledge into his deep-rooted love of Southern food. Donald opened Herbsaint in 2000 and it quickly became one of the most celebrated restaurants in New Orleans. After hurricane Katrina, Donald and a small team of staff worked to make Herbsaint one of the first restaurants to open post-flooding. In 2007 Chef Link was recognized nationally with a James Beard Award for “Best Chef: South”. Donald, along with chef/partner, Stephen Stryjewski, has since opened Cochon and Cochon Butcher—a Cajun style restaurant and adjoining butcher and specialty shop in New Orleans’ warehouse district.
Steven Stryjewski, Cochon, New Orleans, LA
Chef Stryjewski was born in Kansas to a military family. His mobile military lifestyle exposed him to multitudes of different cuisines, which sparked an early interest in cooking. Attending the Culinary Institue of America, European travels and returning to work in restaurants from Napa Valley, California to New Orleans, LA, Stephen combined an appreciation for great products and varied flavor to develop his own style. Working beside Chef Donald Link at New Orleans’ Herbsaint restaurant, Stephen and Donald conceived – a Cajun and Southern-style restaurant featuring an in-house boucherie producing house-made Boudin, Andouille and Smoked Bacon. The James Beard Foundation Awards, the nation’s top honors for culinary professionals, nominated Cochon as Best New Restaurant; Stephen was named the Best New Chef by New Orleans Magazine; and was named a Chef to Watch by the Times Picayune. In the Fall of 2011, Stephen looks forward to the opening of the Link Restaurant Group’s newest restaurant-- Cochon in Lafayette.
Ryan Prewitt, Herbsaint, New Orleans, LA
Ryan Prewitt grew up in Memphis then followed his heart to San Francisco where he worked in classic French kitchens and prowled through the city’s numerous farmer’s markets exploring the abundant flavors there. Moving from San Francisco to New Orleans. Ryan landed at Herbsaint Restaurant in August 2005-- shortly before Hurricane Katrina hit the City- and returned as Sous Chef to help bring the restaurant back as one of New Orleans’ preeminent favorites. Chef Link recognized Ryan’s ability to marry classic French cuisine with his Southern heritage and knew he was the right person to lead the kitchen. As Chef de Cuisine Ryan continues to nurture Herbsaint’s French-inspired cuisine with distinct Southern influence.
John Currence, City Grocery, Oxford, MS
Born and raised in New Orleans, LA, James Beard Award winning chef, John Currence learned about hard work, sourcing food and lively flavor at an early age. His love of hunting, fishing and gardening cultivated a great appreciation of the source of good ingredients. Working as an offshore deckhand on a tugboat at the young age of 15 toughened him up and taught him to work hard. Restaurant jobs from North Carolina, then back to New Orleans confirmed his position in the kitchen and he eventually planted roots in the charming college town of Oxford, MS where he owns and operates four extremely successful restuarants—City Grocery, Bourè, Snack Bar and Big Bad Breakfast.
Many chefs have their first exposure to cooking at a young age. For Sean Brock, who was born and raised in rural Virginia, it was the experience of his family growing their own food that left a deep impression. “This was a coal-field town with no restaurants or stoplights,” he explains. “You grew and cooked your own food, so I really saw food in its true form. You cook all day, and when you’re not cooking, you’re preserving.” These were the building blocks that Brock would not forget as he began building his career as a chef. To say that Chef Brock has accomplished much in his young life is an understatement. In addition to his success as a chef, for which he was awarded the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southeast in 2010, he has an extensive farm that supplies much of his restaurant, he studies and cultivates near-extinct seed varieties, pickles, preserves and cures his harvest, and finds time to have a good amount of fun in between.
Patrick Martin, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, Nolensville, TN
Patrick Martin grew up in Western Tennessee where cooking the whole hog, over real fire was the only way to cook a pig. There were barbecue restaurants surrounding the small college that Patrick attended and his spare time was spent eating and observing the technique. Today Patrick owns his own “Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville, TN, just outside of Nashville. He also takes the show on the road and no matter where he sets up his rig—whether a private party or at New York’s Big Apple BBQ Block Party—a crowd gathers to watch him lay perfect, whole pigs over carefully monitored flames.
Heath Putnam, Heath Putnam Farms, Seattle, WA
Heath Putnam is the founder of Heath Putnam Farms, a company that produces pork as good as Europe's best. He’s imported a special lard-type breed of pig, the Mangalitsa (aka mangalitsa, Mangalitza and Wollschwein), that is one of the world's tastiest pigs. They use European techniques to produce the best pork. Read more at www.woolypigs.com
Will Harris, White Oak Pastures, Bluffton, GA
Will Harris is a South Georgia cattleman raising certified grass-fed, organic and humanely raised cattle, sheep, chickens and turkeys on the ranch that was established by his great grandfather 145 years ago. After many years of incorporating “modern”, industrialized cattle production, Will began to understand the consequences of farming this way and several years ago, decided to go back to the traditional ways of raising animals and caring for the land. He has an on-farm abattoir [slaughter plant] at White Oak Pastures, one of only two in the United States, has just broken ground for an on-farm abattoir for our chickens. Will has become an important voice in the “good food movement” and has created a model that is the gold standard in his industry. His daughter Jenni Harris now works with Will on the farm and is the 5th generation of Harris’ to farm White Oak Pastures.
Rodney Scott, Scott’s Bar-B-Q, Hemingway, SC
At 39 years old, Rodney Scott has spent most of his life working in Scott’s Bar-B-Que, the business that his father built in Hemingway, South Carolina. Rodney cooked his first pig at 11 years old and was scared when he was instructed to just go on what he had observed and on instinct. Well, it worked and he’s been cooking whole hogs over wood charcoal, to national acclaim ever since. Not even realizing that a “locally sourced” movement was taking place in restaurants across America, the Scott’s have been sourcing local pigs from the beginning. They also chop their own wood from fallen trees, and recycle oil drums and old truck axles to make their charcoal barrels. Rodney Scott has been featured in the New York Times, cooked at New York’s Big Apple BBQ Block Party and the Charleston Food and Wine Festival. The Southern Foodways Alliance produced a film about Scott’s Bar-B- Que. Check it out at http://www.southernfoodways.com/documentary/film/cut_chop_cook.html
Sam Jones, Skylight Inn, Ayden, NC
Sam Jones is the third generation of pitmasters at the Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC. Sam’s granddaddy, Pete Jones built the restaurant on the old family farm property to carry on a long tradition of Jones Family BBQ dating back to 1830. They cook over real wood charcoal and when smoked to their perfecting standards, carefully chop the meat and the crispy skin together giving their bbq a unique texture and also optimum taste. Sam started working in the family business at the age of 9 and outside of 5 years, has been there his whole life. They cook the pork the exact same way as his granddaddy Pete cooked it and declares, “if it’s not cooked with wood, it’s not bbq.”
Wright Thompson, Imbedded Reporter for Garden & Gun, Oxford, MS
Wright Thompson, a native of Clarksdale, MS writes about sports for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine and formerly worked at The Kansas City Star and Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Thompson started his sportswriting career while a student at the University of Missouri, covering Missouri sports and writing as a columnist for the School of Journalism's Columbia Missourian. He also writes about food and drink and such and his sportswriting angle makes him the frontrunner for documenting the Fatback Collectives competition at Memphis in May.