Barbecue's Global Love Letter to Meat
Matthew Salleh chronicles the world’s obsession with barbecue
It's bold to premiere a documentary about barbecue in Austin, but after traveling to 12 countries to chronicle the world's obsession with meat, there's no place director Matthew Salleh would rather unveil his film. Featuring cameos from locals like Louie Mueller in addition to segments filmed in far-flung places like the Syrian border, the movie takes a global look at the methods and cultures that spring up around preparing meat. In advance of the premiere, we interviewed Salleh about his favorite bite of meat, the hazards of filming around fire, and authentic Mongolian barbecue.
The Austin Chronicle: What began your interest in barbecue?
Matthew Salleh: I'm from Australia, so obviously we love our barbecue. But a couple of years ago, we shot a short film about the barbecue joints in Central Texas where we got to meet the pitmasters and hear their inspiring stories. Then we started chatting to other people, and it turns out everyone in the world thinks their country has the best barbecue. That's when we realized this was a global story.
AC: What should people expect from the film?
MS: It's more than just a film about food. It's a story of how the world does this very simple thing, but it's a simple thing that shows how we all come together. And it's told from the point of view of people that live in these cultures, in 12 different languages.
AC: What was the most remote place you traveled to?
MS: The one that felt the most remote was Mongolia. We were a good thousand miles out from anywhere. Plus Mongolians are nomadic people, so by the time we arrived, the family we organized a shoot with had moved 20 miles away.
AC: Do your cameras permanently reek of smoke?
MS: We had to constantly clean them. It was partly the smoke, and partly the grease from your hands, because the families were so hospitable they want to feed you. Rose Tucker, my partner who shot the film with me, she burnt her boom mic on the last day of filming at Louie Mueller. She really wanted the sound of that fire!
AC: Did you have a favorite bite of food you filmed?
MS: Not just saying this to play favorites, but we love Central Texas-style barbecue. It's just really hard to re-create elsewhere. But one where we didn't know what to expect was in Armenia. There's this tradition where as soon as the meat is ready, the men standing around the barbecue have to take a bite with a shot of vodka before it goes to the table.
AC: Was there anything that was a challenge to eat?
MS: In Mongolia, the way that they prepare their meat is very different from here. Their meat has what we'd call a rancid taste, but they love it. They basically gut the animal, use the outside skin as a sack, and put hot rocks and the meat back into it and let it steam. In Western civilization we usually bleed our meat first, but they don't. It was as farm-to-table as it gets.
AC: Did you have any other favorite cooking methods?
MS: One that I really loved was in Japan, the yakitori process. It really shows the difference between the countryside and city. In the countryside, they make the charcoal called binchotan very peacefully over a month. Then they ship it to the city and it's fired up every night to use on some very epic bar snacks.
AC: What universals did you find across cultures?
MS: I believe in this concept that cultures have more similarities than differences. That's what the film shows, that these ways of doing barbecue are wildly different, but the reason people do things is the same, it's family and community. And whenever something good happens to people, they want to gather around a fire and eat meat.
DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHTFriday, March 10, 5:30pm, Stateside
Sunday, March 12, 5:45pm, Alamo South Lamar
Saturday, March 18, 2pm, Stateside