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MEET CHEF ERIC GEPHART

 

Barbecue. The only thing that gets us out of bed at god awful hours, besides work.

In its finest form is not always the most attractive thing you can put on a plate. Sometimes it is the best thing since sliced bread and then the next, you sometimes wonder why you woke up at 2am to cook this brisket that is a tad dry.

However, when you have a culinary eye and impeccable attention to detail, you can make the ugliest of things look and taste amazing. And with a bit of guidance from those type of folks, you then can be the pit master, teaching others the art of Barbecue.

Our guest today is that culinary eye, a true visionary when it comes to smoked meats and is always pushing the boundaries to make amazing food.

Meet Chef Eric (Gephart), the Culinary force behind Kamado Joe and the creator of the Lane’s BBQ Scorpion Combo rub.

Thank you, Eric for taking the time to answer a few questions.

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Thanks heaps, for the invitation to participate Daniel.

 

Q: From Culinary School to barbecue - How did you venture into Smoking food and outdoor cooking?

A: I am from a reign, more specifically the small town of Hillsborough North Carolina which is famous for Whole Hog Cookery. My wife is also a champion whole hog cooker. 

The majority of my childhood was spent outdoors. As an Eagle Scout, you can imagine cooking over live fire was a skill and lifestyle instilled in me from a very young age. I can remember hiking across Occoneechee Mountain and my mother building a 3 layer chocolate cake in the wilderness using a cardboard box some aluminum foil, a few coat hangers and the embers of a fire.

I fell in love with feeding people in need. Slowey but surely, I transitioned into restaurants to cultivate that skill to amplify my capacity to share, to provide, to lead and to show gratitude. 

 

I would work a job until I knew everything about the operation and then I would make a move to work under the next chef I admired. 1 Job would open the door to the next until eventually I landed in some of the top restaurants around the world working under the top chefs. I was always the first to volunteer and never said no to a challenge including 1 stint in Naples where I worked 5 months, 12 to 16 hour days without a day off. The Flu finally brought me to my senses. 

Soon an opportunity presented itself for me to move back to North Carolina and open my first restaurant on the barrier island of Wrightsville Beach in the same property which 10 years before, I was the dish washer. Shortly after opening, we won every award there was to win and made ever mistake there was to make. It was quite the rock and roll lifestyle.

The global financial crisis hit in 08, and fine dining was no longer an option for me so I moved locations to down town Wilmington and opened a Contemporary Latin restaurant. We tripled our seating and cut prices in half relying on volume, unique flavors and plating as well as nightlife to carry the business. It was there that we won Top Chef and the restaurant was running full tilt from 9am to 11pm 7 days a week. 

With the news that my wife and I were going to have our first daughter I knew it was time to get out of the industry so we traveled two and a half hours inland to Raleigh, NC (The Capitol) and opened a very successful Culinary School (The Chefs Academy) awarding degrees in Culinary Arts and Baking and Pastry. It was there where I honed my unique “edutainment” style.

After several years of teaching, the restaurant industry called me back and I opened the world’s first restaurant using only ceramic grills. It was an 8-million-dollar venture with a 9,000 square foot, 350 seat monster of a space. Very technology driven, no menus all iPad driven with an equal focus on detailed service and experiential dining. We did very well but were not interested in 1 unit, we wanted to open 50 in 5 years. When we were not on that trajectory, we shut the concept down and I reached out to the owner of Kamado Joe. I did the math and told him that if the average griller spends 20 hours a week on the grill, I had cooked the equivalent of 73 years to everyone else’s 1 year, after almost 3 years of that, I had made almost every mistake there was to make on a grill and that I would love to create a position with his company.

At the time, the only place in the budget for me to come on board was if I did the social media which I new nothing about. The transition from a chef’s life to running social for a multi-million dollar grill company was rough. Just as I thought the job was coming to an end, we took a trip to Australia for the Barbecues Galore Conference.

 

2 days before the conference we rented a brewery called Rocks Brewing Company and threw a party for all of the Kamado Joe fans, BBQ teams, local social influencers and a few Sydney based culinary bloggers and magazines. As soon as the plane touched down, I was straight into the kitchen with the owner and founder of kamado joe as my sous chef. The staff gave us the keys and we prepped until 2 in the morning. The next day we hosted the party with 3 KJ Classic II’s and rolled out culinary cyclone of over 40 menu items in a 4 hour period. Everyone was either involved or had their phones out sharing the experience. Bobby Brennan looked at me and laughed and said “This is your new job for Kamado Joe” The KJ Block Party was born.

That first year, I did 52 parties/events around the world rarely repeating a menu item unless requested and always shared 100% of the recipes. It was then that I was able to bring my unique global professional culinary background to the BBQ arena and begin focusing on positivity, complete culinary transparency and trying to give away everything that I had learned over the course of 2 decades fighting my way to the top. 

 

Q: You’ve had a great working relationship with Lane’s BBQ’s in Georgia. What is it that you love about Lane’s BBQ?

A: The People and the product. I have enjoyed the Lane’s BBQ teams company all around the globe. They exemplify the qualities in both personal and business aspects of life that I aspire to surround myself with. 

The product quality is second to none and Lanes BBQ Seasonings are one of 2 ingredients I travel with around the world, the rest I shop for or make myself.

Ryan has always brought out the best in folks around him. I remember an oyster roast we threw at the Lanes BBQ HQ. We rolled out 5 bushels of NC Oysters and 2 each 100-day dry aged New York Strip Loins cooked on a pitchfork. The crowd was 300 deep, and everyone had a blast! One of the best days of BBQ I have had in a long time and I look forward to a lot more of that in 2021.

 

 

Q: If you had to plan your perfect day, what would you do from the moment you wake up to going to bed?

A: Hunt, Clean, Cook

 

Q: You were the driving force behind putting our Brisket, Q-Nami and SPF-53 rubs together to create one of the most dynamic Steak rubs on the planet, Scorpion. How did you come up with this? 

A: White – Red – Brown

Layering is a BBQ Champion Secret. 

Ingredients are listed by volume.

White - The first layer is heavy on the salt. This kick starts osmosis wicking moisture from the semipermeable membranes of the cellular structure of the meat to the outside.

Red – represents heat. Your Cayenne, chili powder or paprika. The moisture from the white will dampen and allow the layers to adhere. Then nature will find equilibrium and suck the moisture back in thus carrying the flavours of the white and red in thus “Flavour Brining”

Brown – Represents a seasoning high in sugar content. Sugar has great caramelization properties and will assist in the bark building caramelization and Maillard Reaction where the proteins turn to sugar whether in a low and slow cook over time or in the blistering sear of a straight or reverse sear.

 Only by understanding why things happen can we intentionally and constancy affect the change we want and impose our culinary will on our dishes.

 

Q: Do you have a cooking idol?

A: I will tell you this I have cooked with the absolute best. Anthony Bordain, Eric Ripert, Jose Andres, Andrew Zimern, Dario Cecchini, Nancy Silverton, Emeril Lagasse….. The list goes on but whatever your views on religion, it cannot go unnoticed that one of the most revolutionary and controversial things about Jesus was who he chose to share meals with. That’s pretty bad ass.

 

Q: What bit of advice would you give to someone looking to get into barbecue?

A: Cook often and make as many mistakes early as possible. Don’t forget about seafood and vegetables. Let local seasons dictate your home menu. Support Your local farms. Give more than you receive and cook for others!  If I can be a recourse to you, please do not hesitate to reach out.

You can find Chef Eric on Instagram @ericgephart & @kamadojoe 

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