Feast 5 is a weekly column introducing you to some of the best chefs, bartenders, makers, farmers and more around the region. Have a recommendation for someone who should be featured? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You’ll often find Josh Smith wearing a Barred Owl Butcher and Table ball cap while he’s working in the restaurant, but that’s just one of many hats he wears as part of the Barred Owl brand. Smith is co-owner, chef and head butcher at Barred Owl, as well as the co-founder of Irene’s BBQ (formerly Barbacoas Del Norte), a pop-up concept – soon to turn brick and mortar – started by a trio of Barred Owl originals. He’s known for his passion for heritage breed pigs, Austin-style barbecue and supporting local farmers.
In this Feast 5, Smith shares his favorite spot for desserts in Columbia, his love for Neapolitan-style pizza and memories of Sunday meals at his grandma’s.
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What’s the best thing you’ve ordered at a local bar or restaurant recently? I’m gonna go with desserts at Cherry Street Cellar. Every time I get a dessert there, I am just blown away at how good they are. Last spring they had this like a big éclair, basically, but it’s round and they had this pistachio cream, and they did it with strawberries and some kind of creaminess and it was like the best fancy strawberry shortcake kind of combination I think I’ve ever had. And then they also did this chocolate pave for awhile that had like coffee and caramel notes all going with it and it was with all sorts of cool textures. I think they are putting more effort into making a composed dessert than most places do, including my own places.
What’s the best style of pizza – and why? I’m team Napoli. I like that wood-fired, 900-degree oven, done in 90 seconds kind of pizza. Puffy, a little bit charred, still kind of floppy, that’s my style 100 percent. For the longest time I was an Italophile, and that hasn’t ever really gone away. I even had a little part in a pizzeria in New Orleans for a little while. I’ve been to Napoli. I loved the pizza. But don’t get me wrong – I think you could say which kind of pizza do I not like and I would have a harder time deciding. Chain pizza, factory pizza – that’s what I don’t like.
What’s your favorite food memory? I think my favorite food memory is more “memories.” We used to have a big Sunday midday meal at my grandma’s every week when I was a kid. And so that sort of set the tone for me. She was a really, really great cook and her influences were all over the place – she was not only a home cook, she also worked in restaurants. She worked at a Mexican restaurant, so that worked its way into the food she got recipes from my from my grandpa’s mom, who was German, but German coming from the era when Austria, Hungary, you know, all those recipes were intertwined. So we had a lot of Hungarian food, and we had a lot of German food, and we also ate Mexican food, and we also just had a whole lot of like, standard Midwestern slash Southern American food, fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. So I mean, my whole culinary career I think can be rooted to that. I moved to Louisiana for college and I was just kind of missing that, so I would call my grandma and get a recipe and try to make it.
What ingredient do you think everyone should keep at home and why? Lemon juice. It’s versatile because it can always lift a dish. Fresh lemons, or even some high quality canned lemon juice, can pretty easily elevate a lot of dishes without overpowering it. But I think just a little pop of acid really pretty much is what makes a dish as long as you’ve salted things properly. I think that’s the key to really taking things to the next level. And, you know, for me, I tend to cook with fattier ingredients, so it just kind of helps cut that. And the two things help just create flavor across the palate. Any fat will coat your tongue and then the lemon is a sort of refresh for every bite.
What’s your most controversial food opinion? My most controversial food opinion by far is that peanut butter and chocolate are disgusting together. Reese’s is the most vile product known to man. In general, I like peanut butter with a spoon and some salt. If it needs sweetness, for me, it’s honey – never jelly. And that’s about it. Otherwise, I’ll use it maybe as a savory ingredient, like to make a quick sauce for satay or sort of Indonesian to Thai flavors. I like it more as a savory thing. Chocolate’s kind of a perfect food. It’s bitter. It’s got a little sweetness. If they happen to put a little sea salt in it, even better. Because of the fermentation, it’s got some acid to it. And peanut butter is kind of a perfect food on its own as well, but for some reason when you combine the two it’s just horrible. The flip side of that is – and this is probably going to make it sound even weirder – but I as a kid I liked peanut M&Ms, but I hated the peanut butter M&Ms.