The low and slow style of barbecuing is still something new to Malaysians. It’s an American technique where meats are smoked for long hours to give it a juicy and tender bite.
But what is it about barbecue that is so alluring to the Western palate and is only now stepping into our shores? For one, the pricing for having a full barbecue meal with all its trimmings is pretty affordable, especially given the amount of time, effort, and manpower that it takes to cook up a good meal.
Few would know this more than Nazri Jameson of Beard Brothers’ BBQ, one of the pioneers that revolutionised the way we view barbecued food when they first started out in Kampung Datuk Keramat in 2010 before settling down in Tropicana Avenue in 2014.
The crew took part in the recently ended Tiffin Food Court, which lasted from the first week of September to the last week of October. Beard Brother’s very own cured meat section, BB Deli were part of the action at Tiffin, bringing its own cured meats to the table.
We sit for a chat with Nazri to find out how the scene has grown, how they’ve tried to add a local flair to their dishes, and why a RM120 burger is worth paying for.
How did the name ‘Beard Brothers’ come about?
Four years ago when we started, it was with a few ex-partners and they all had beards on them. It also helped that we were all very close with each other, much like how brothers are so it was only natural for us to go with the name Beard Brothers. The name itself gives off a family vibe and that is what we were going for.
Why did you decide to get involved with American barbecue food, especially since the scene in KL is pretty much nonexistent until now?
Back then, I thought it would be an easy thing. I got the inspiration from a YouTube channel and coming from the culinary arts background after working in French kitchens, I thought barbecue would be easy. You just slap the meat onto the grill over some firewood and it will turn out great. And given my experience as a chef, I thought it would turn out even better. I could not have been more wrong!
I had to learn it the hard way, using over a hundred kilos of meat to get where I am today. But I was happy with the outcome, learning through every step of the way and through every meat I’ve cooked up to this point. There was a purpose for all of that failure and looking back, it was beautiful having to go through all of that. It’s much like how life is for a lot of people — you go through a lot of failure and hardships and you learn and you get better because of it.
You mentioned that you got your inspiration from YouTube. Do you remember who in particular it was?
His name is Aaron Franklin and he is one of the OG (original gangster) smokemasters. Everyone knows about him and even Myron Mixon, another OG in the American barbecue scene. So I was looking at barbecue competitions on YouTube and it just gave me that push to be as good as them or at least try to be as good as they are.
And what would you say your style of barbecue is like?
Since the beginning, we have referred to ourselves as Kansas City barbecue because it had a lot to do with sweet sauces and that is where our focus is: Towards sweet meats. We even have our own customised smoker all the way from Brisbane, Australia and let me tell you, the guys handling the barbecue scene down in Australia take their barbecue seriously. You have really good teams down there that can come up to par with the people over in the US.
We contacted the manufacturer of the smokers and as fate would have it, they were going to close down and we were the last order they were taking. A smoker plays a big part when it comes to barbecue, much like firewood and we use fruit woods because those too plays a big role when you’re cooking meats like that. While many may not notice at first but once you pay attention to the many different smells that are coming out from the wood, it is all different. It gives a really special scent to the meats that you smoke. Wood that bear fruits like mangosteen, mango, and rambutan in particular are what we use to smoke our meats.
How did you add a local flair to this style of barbecue?
We have experimented some of our meats using the spices that are used in satay but we have yet to find the right time to introduce that. Don’t get me wrong, fusion is good but a lot of people are butchering that name right now. There’s an oversaturation of fusion cuisine right now and I will say this – only if you have done your homework on it will something beautiful appear.
Guys like Ferran Adrià (head chef of the then 3 Michelin-starred restaurant elBulli in Catalonia, Spain) was known for crossing recipes and ingredients in their food. From Asia to America and Europe, what they did was beautiful. But to get to where they did, they would close their restaurants six months in a year simply for R&D and experimentation. It’s a very tight-knit process and there is no room for discomfort for the guests, and that is what I do not want for my guests as well.
You guys have been around for the past four years, has the Malaysian perception towards barbecue food changed?
I think it’s growing and I think it’s beautiful. Ever since we opened, you have probably close to 10 different barbecue places opening up and I’m glad to say that we sort of helped shape that perception to what it is today. I think we sort of set that road where we opened up the avenue for barbecue food in Malaysia.
I mean, you need a certain level of craziness to get into barbecue because you’re working around the clock. I have great respect for the guys that do this because it’s hard work and you don’t sleep much in this job. It’s a long and tiring process when it comes to smoking meat, unless of course you’re just burning it with propane, then that’s a whole different story. You’re taking care of firewood for 14 hours straight and before that, you’re taking care of the meats for another four or five hours. It definitely takes a toll on you and I have nothing but love and respect for the guys that are doing this.
And what is BB Deli?
It’s a similar concept to the delis you can find in New York. There’s this deli there called Katz’s Delicatessen and they sell pastrami. Seeing as we’re in the business of making and processing good artisanal meats and we thought BB Deli would be a good thing to do of giving everyone a chance in franchising it. BB Deli is our way of giving back to the people.
I can’t franchise barbecue because that takes time and skill, and not everybody has the time to learn those skills. So what we’re doing here is something we can process for you to franchise it while ensuring that the quality is still good. It’s also a chance for me to give back to those who want an opportunity to do business. They’ve been supporting me and I want to support them back.
Thanks to Tiffin Food Court, we were able to introduce BB Deli to the public and also with the help of our pastrami and salt beef sandwiches. It’s being received nicely and I’m quite happy with that. We have guys from Johor Bahru who are buying our homemade beef bacon and sausages from BB Deli as well. Our main goal is to just introduce to everyone what good artisanal meats are really like.
Speaking of Tiffin Food Court, there was a social media craze happening when it was announced that BB Deli would be participating and a certain limited-edition rib burger that went for RM120. Could you tell us more about that?
[Laughs] That’s a funny story actually. Basically, we got a lot of questions from customers as to why we didn’t bring the barbecue here and to us, we wanted to bring the BB Deli out. But since they asked for it, we’ll throw in three rib burgers for them. I thought this was going to be a crazy deal because ribs are not cheap, especially the good quality ribs.
For me, it’s not the end product that makes me happy; it’s the smile on a customer’s face the moment they bite into it. The moment that happens, I know I did my job. As a chef, that’s the ultimate satisfaction you can get.
What’s crazy about the rib burger is that people are willing to spend on food, especially if it’s good food. I’m willing to spend on good food as well. Why would people spend RM300 on 10 grams of caviar? Because it’s good; there’s time and effort put into it and that is evidence enough for people to spend on it.
Given the process that goes into barbecue, the time it takes to cook, as well as the quality of meat that’s used in a barbecue, I personally think it should be the most expensive food in the world. I’m quoting a pitmaster from the US who spoke about this on video with David Chang (founder of the Momofuku restaurant group) and he said that it should be because of the amount of work that goes into creating barbecue. One also has to consider the care and love of the animals because use any piece of meat from any sort of breed, it has to be a good breed.
You guys are the pioneers so what are your thoughts on Malaysians chefs who are reinventing the food scene in Malaysia?
I think it’s awesome. We’re living in the day and age of the internet where information is just a click away. The fact that everybody is challenging themselves to try out something new and seeing if they can do it better while learning to do it better, I think it’s amazing. It’s knowledge that everybody can share. Sure some would prefer to keep their recipes to themselves and that’s fair; I keep my recipes a secret where not a single member of my staff knows.
But nonetheless, it’s amazing that people are broadening their scope when it comes to food and accepting different kinds of food. Who would’ve thought that Malaysians would be accepting kimchi? Before we know it, Korean food is everywhere these days. In the early 90s when Japanese cuisine was first introduced to Malaysia, people were thinking you would have to be crazy to eat raw fish, and look at how long that craze has lasted.
That process is beautiful, watching people taking in different cuisines and cultures slowly, bit by bit. And then, there will be people who will think to themselves, “Can I make this better?” Of course, you will also have people who are put off by such food and that makes it beautiful. You know that every single person is different and you respect that. Everybody has a sense of individuality and you respect that fact when you interact with each and every customer.