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David Chang says Aaron Franklin is best in the world (at more than barbecue)

Matthew Odam
“Hospitality almost has to come first,” Aaron Franklin told David Chang on The David Chang Show podcast. [RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Restaurateur and icon-in-the-making chef David Chang visited Austin again this year for South by Southwest. Chang sat down with Aaron Franklin at the Uber Eats House for a taping of his Ringer podcast, the David Chang Show. The conversation offers interesting insight into what Franklin think makes his and wife Stacy’s eponymous restaurant such a huge success: hospitality, hard work, curiosity and humility. You can listen to the full podcast here.

An obvious fan of Franklin, whom he calls “one of the top five, top three … probably best barbecue pitmasters in the country” and his role in bringing barbecue to new heights, Chang compares the native Texan to a Japanese shokunin and legendary Spanish chef Ferran Adrià.

Dig into the full podcast for further details on the following:

  • Chang, who knows a little something about celebrity says Franklin Barbecue (which he maddeningly refers to, as many do, Franklins Barbecue throughout the pod), is the “one of the very rare places that actually lives up to the hype.”
  • Franklin discusses the similarities of kitchen work and music and his transition into one from the other. He also makes correlations between the physicality of cooking and athletics, with which he says he has limited experience.
  • What is one of the things that makes Franklin Barbecue a success? “Not to sound like a weird hippie or anything, but, good vibes, man,” Franklin said.
  • On Franklin’s ability to build memories for his customers, Chang says, “This is what you do better than anyone else.”
  • Nostalgia is one of the things that drove Franklin to get into the barbecue business.
  • “Hospitality almost has to come first,” Franklin days of the restaurant business.
  • Chang and Franklin both agree: The people who are trying to copy what Franklin is doing are trying to replicate the wrong thing.
  • Franklin doesn’t pay too much attention to the developments and echo chamber surrounding the barbecue world and is loathe of the idea that anybody makes “the best” anything.
  • Franklin’s grandparents’ music store was hugely influential on his style of service and hospitality.
  • Chang compares the experience of dining at Franklin and barbecue and interacting with the attentive and charismatic Franklin to meeting former president Bill Clinton.
  • If the rocker turned barbecue master had to compare Franklin Barbecue to one music, it would be: free jazz. “I feel bad for that drummer. Because that rhythm is not consistent.”
  • Why has Franklin always said no to ideas of expansion and growth? “We can’t replicate what we do … Knowing that it would ruin all the integrity that we have if we tried to do more makes it a really easy ‘no.’”
  • Franklin sets lofty personal goals for himself, further than he knows he can attain, to push himself.
  • Channeling his inner punk rock Yoda in discussing work, striving and learning by making mistakes, Franklin says, “It’s only a fail if you don’t try. Why would you be stoked to just be mediocre.”