Conversations with Charles Stamey - Making Tradition Sexy
This is the second part of my reflections on my conversation with Charles Stamey, patriarch of Stamey's BBQ.
Usually when we think of "tradition" we think of simply mindlessly rehashing the same thing over and over again. We choke down dry turkey year after year on Thanksgiving is a prime example. Maintaining tradition is most certainly not sexy. Most people don't shop for designers who are preserving your grandma's shoes.
In our conversation we discussed how hard it was to bring North Carolina BBQ to other places but how difficult it is to stay relevant. The North Carolina menu is already pretty stark. The one thing you will likely never hear at a Carolina BBQ joint are the words "Today's special is....". This sentiment is also echoed by current family pitmaster Chip -
I think it’s as much work to keep things the same as it is to innovate and change them.- Chip Stamey
When your menu is as set as it is, like Stamey's, the challenge is how to not only to preserve the tradition but make it sexy. Forces for change come from all sides, some customers, your staff, your family. Many times, Chip notes, these changes are subtle and progressive, so much so that eventually you end up where you didn't want to go.
But to bring North Carolina BBQ to that next level, there will need to be thoughts on what can be done to make it sexy and relevant for our generation. My greatest clue to that actually comes from chefs who think through recipes by Auguste Escoffier.
Escoffier is the fuddy-duddy of French cooking. We owe him for establishing the systematic operation of the commercial kitchen as we know it today. There are many of his recipes though, that are pretty out of date. Here's an example of chef Michel Roux Jr making an old Escoffier dish sexy. Perhaps it's a paradigm on how we can think through NC BBQ. Not to make it all fanciful, but where can we take tradition and form it into our own.