Food Matters: Austinite who introducted Shanghai to Texas barbecue to compete in Terlingua; Dirt Candy chef cooking at Alamo
From Austin to China to Terlingua
Austin native Ken Walker has been sharing his love of Texas barbecue in China for almost seven years now.
Walker, who learned how to smoke a brisket on weekend trips to the lake and as a marketing student at Texas State University, lived in Hong Kong for eight years before a short stint back in Texas, where he realized how much he missed living in Asia. He moved to Shanghai and opened Bubba’s Texas-Style Bar-B-Que and Saloon in 2006, which now has three locations throughout the city of 21 million people and has drawn celebrities like basketball star Yao Ming and governor Rick Perry.
Walker hasn’t been back to Austin since he opened the first Bubba’s, but this week, he’s passing through en route to Terlingua, where he is judging the annual Chili Appreciation Society International chili cook-off and competing in a barbecue contest on the side. For as long as he’s owned Bubba’s, Walker has hosted a chili cook-off in Shanghai that is now a sanctioned CASI event that draws more than 1,000 people. Two of the winning teams — both under command from American fellow expats living in Shanghai — will compete in Terlingua this weekend.
We grabbed lunch at JMueller’s BBQ last week to chat about running a barbecue restaurant in China and what secrets he has up his sleeve for this weekend’s barbecue contest.
On the holidays: “Two of our big days are Thanksgiving and July 4, when expats start craving a taste of home.” In just a few weeks, they’ll sell hundreds of smoked turkeys and countless green bean casseroles.
On beef: Because American beef is highly restricted in China, Walker uses Australian wagyu beef, which would be cost prohibitive for most American pitmasters to use. Most of his pork comes from Spain.
On standing out at Terlingua: “I’ll be cooking on a small smoker. I can’t compete with the guys with the (points to Mueller’s big rig in the trailer on South First), so I’m making Szechuan-flavored beer-can chicken and char siew pork ribs with honey, hoisen, five spice, white pepper, soy glaze. I brought the spices on the plane.”
On a chili cook-off abroad: Expats from around the world dress up and turn the cook-off into one big party. “It’s like a foreign freak show.”
On the hunt for fresh black-eyed peas
Ask Addie: I’m originally from California, but I married into a family for whom fresh black-eyed peas were necessary for survival, but I have a hard time finding them fresh. We like fresh green snap peas and black-eyed peas, but the purple ones we do when there are no others. The grandkids even love them. Once you get addicted to those things, you can’t live without. Can you help?
— Ruth Holdren, Leander
Local farmers have been bringing fresh peas to local farmers market in recent months, and I just saw some fresh (not frozen) black-eyed peas ($5.98 for 16 ounces) in the produce department at Central Market. But Minerva Reschman, the perishables director at Central Market Westgate, said that you shouldn’t discount the frozen peas, which have even more variety. The fresh-then-frozen lady cream, pinto, English, navy, speckled butter beans, purple hull and black-eyed peas are picked and then frozen right away to preserve the texture. Reschman likes the frozen beans because she can use just a handful here or there but always have them in stock. Two years ago, former garden writer Renee Studebaker wrote a lovely homage to fresh purple hull peas, including tips on growing them, which we’ve republished at austin360.com/food-drink.
‘Dirt Candy’ author to prepare Alamo feast
- New York chef Amanda Cohen, who is elevating what it means run a “vegetarian restaurant” and whose first cookbook, “Dirt Candy,” is as much graphic novel as cookbook, will be in Austin this weekend for a vegetarian feast at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar Boulevard. Starting at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, the four-course dinner ($55) will be served during a screening of “God of Cookery,” and Cohen will sign copies of her book after the event. drafthouse.com
Tiffany Harelik has released the second volume of “Trailer Food Diaries Cookbook: Austin Edition” (History Press, $19.99) and will teach a cooking class ($60) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Central Market North with trailer owners of local trucks Holy Cacao, Fresh off the Truck, Royito’s and Cazamance. She’ll also host a book signing at 7 p.m. Nov. 7 at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd., and will be among the many local vendors at the Junior League’s A Christmas Affair at the Palmer Events Center, which starts Nov. 14. For event details and tickets, go to trailerfooddiaries.blogspot.com.