As I headed to Clive Bar for the Austin Smoke Experiment, an amateur cooking event that was part of the Brooklyn Brewery Mash on Sunday, I grew exited about the plethora of smoked dishes and culinary exploration awaiting me. But when I reached the man with the tickets and the power, I was told to hit the road.
Even with Austin Chronicle press credentials, eight months shy of my 21st birthday, I wasn't allowed on the premises. This came as a surprise because previous Food Experiment events had been hosted at bars serving beer and attended by families with kids in strollers. But I was a reporter with an assignment and, even though smoked delights and culinary exploration were no longer on the menu for me, that didn’t stop me from checking out the event and hanging with other fest-goers outside Clive Bar.
For example, Stacy Franklin, a judge and co-owner of renowned Franklin’s Barbeque, said she would be judging the dishes with expectations in mind. “Taste is the most important thing to me,” Franklin said. “Smokey meats should be tender, and fats should be rendered. In addition, I would really be disappointed if someone used Liquid Smoke. I am also interested to see what other foods will be smoked, besides meats.” Though a lover of smoked meat, Franklin said she was hoping for a crazy, smoked dessert or other non-traditional smoked dishes to stir the pot.
Audience members circulated Clive Bar as they filled their plates with the diverse mix of smoked foods. I, however, watched from the sidelines, my mouth watering as I took sight of the brisket; the greatness; the culinary art. Any moment I would turn 21, right? Theo Peck, co-founder of the Food Experiments, said contestants were given free reign to smoke anything and everything under the sun. “Besides brisket and chicken, we have people smoking chocolate, chowder, lamb, cherries, and pork belly,” Peck told me.
The idea so smoked chocolate got your attention, didn’t it? It certainly got mine. But as a lowly college student attendee with no ticket and no beer to drink if even I were legal, I had to rely on my conversation with the other Food Experiment co-founder, Nick Suarez for some perspective. A lover of food and smoked meat in particular, Suarez warned that contestants should be careful when utilizing the power of smoke.
“There's something magical that happens to smoked food. Smoke adds layers of flavor and complexity, but it can also be abused,” Suarez said. “Anything can be smoked, but I feel there's a fine line between a balanced smoked dish and an overly smoked dish. It's like anything you cook, you must find balance. Coming back to Austin, I'm always excited to eat as much smoked brisket as my heart and stomach will allow me. The barbecue in Texas is really hard to compare to anything else. Top-notch!”
After spending a couple of hours outside this event, I couldn’t wait to turn 21. Not for the beer, but because of the smoked foods Austin amateur chefs had to offer. The food didn’t look amateurish at all. Peck said Texan's natural affinity for smoked foods is what made the Austin Smoke Experiment so successful. “At the Food Experiments, you will find the most surprising, delicious, smokey food Austin has to offer,” Peck said “Add to that cold craft beer on a sunny Sunday afternoon: what else would you need?”
Nothing but a ticket.
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