Texas Joe moved to the UK and started making beef jerky but it was the call of his home state’s cooking that drove him to create a soulful Texan BBQ restaurant in Bermondsey
Where did you grow up, what was it like?
I grew up all over Texas and spent a few years of my childhood in Louisiana. The food landscape of Texas is as large and varied as the state itself. It’s hard to imagine that Texas is three times the size of the UK. And every region has it’s own style of cooking. Even the phrase Texas BBQ is a generalisation as the style is completely different in south Texas than it is in east Texas. In general when people mention Texas BBQ these days they are actually speaking of Hill Country BBQ that originates from central Texas towns like Lockhart and now Austin.
Mexican food plays a huge part of the daily eating habits of most Texans. The term Tex-Mex has come to have negative connotations here but the real deal is sublime. Enchiladas, tamales, tacos and queso are just as Texan as brisket and ribs.
Cajun food is also close to my heart and something I feel very protective over. It’s good to see some folks trying to bring a taste of it abroad.
What’s your food background?
Well my momma would’ve said: “He was just born hungry”. My father had restaurants since I was a kid but I didn’t grow up with him but I was always fascinated with the energy and excitement of them when I would visit. I have done a lot of different jobs in my life but I have always been passionate about the food of my homeland and in particular BBQ. I moved from Texas to California to pursue acting and I brought my smoker along with me. People used to think I was some sort of pyromaniac or arsonist because I always smelt of smoke when I would head out to the bars.
What are your first food-loving memories?
I guess like most people it would just be the simple home cooking of their mother. She had perfected a solid staple of comfort food that was in regular rotation and every one of those dishes bring back great memories … Except for meat loaf. I hate meat loaf to this day.
How did you end up in the UK?
I’ve just always been a bit of a rambler to be honest. I moved around a lot as a child with my family so I got used to a change of scenery and the excitement and challenge of adjusting. We spent six years in a small town called Portland, TX, which is where I graduated from high school. The day I graduated I moved to Austin in pursuit of a bigger reality. After college I headed to Los Angeles in a 1959 Chevy Bel Air. That felt very foreign to me at the time but it soon became the place I considered home.
I have been in the UK just over five years now and still don’t feel completely acclimatised. I reckon the day I get comfortable will be the day I want to move again. Maybe Moscow is next.
My mother said: ‘He was just born hungry’
How did you get into the jerky?
It basically sprung from necessity. I couldn’t figure out how I fit into the UK and London in particular. A “normal” job didn’t seem to be an option so I tried out a few different things. My first project here was a record label, then I started a leather company.
I had been watching the sudden popularity of street food and the rise of BBQ. In particular the Pitt Cue truck and the Rib Man. I had blown through most of my savings already so couldn’t afford to start something of that scale just yet. So I tried to find a hole in the market and jerky seemed to be it. It was a big deal to spend 300 quid on some equipment but as soon as I packaged some up it took off.
What’s the secret to good jerky?
Quality meat is the key really. Then simple flavourful recipes. Let the meat do the talking and keep your seasoning simple at first. Then you can build on that foundation.
Congratulations on the new restaurant, Texas Joe’s, how did that come about?
Well I have been doing pop ups for about three years now. Right after a Dragon’s Den appearance I opened my first kitchen at the BrewDog in Shoreditch. That took off and we opened in their new bar in Shepherds Bush. Once we had the pub model nailed down we rolled it into some other locations.
Pop-ups are great for building a profile but the model is very difficult to make money from if you are not intending to operate the kitchen yourself. I liken the pop-up experience to having a room mate. At first it’s fun and you get drunk together and have a ball but then you end up hating each other because someone didn’t do the dishes and listens to shit music.
I had always had a plan to open standalones. Initially we were going to roll-out nationwide in a joint venture with BrewDog. That would have put us in the market before a lot of the bigger players that are now big brands. For whatever reason that didn’t happen and I am somewhat thankful for that. I am much happier focusing on nailing this joint.
Where did the design come from?
The building effectively designed itself. When I first saw it I thought wow. This looks like a BBQ joint already, let’s open tomorrow! Nearly a year later I found it wasn’t that simple.
I wanted the joint to feel simple and honest and to avoid the American BBQ cliche’s that dominate over here. I also wanted to tell a story. The story is that of Texas itself and it’s people.
Who did the menu?
Initially this venture was going to be a partnership with Neil Rankin. During the planning stages his big idea Temper gained some interest with investors and he had to step away and focus on that. When that happened I decided to take everything back to basics and try to really nail as close as I could the Texan BBQ experience. We still have Neil’s smoked bone marrow on the menu though!
I was interested in continuing the storyline through the menu and we had the idea to make the menu itself a newspaper. I approached the top three BBQ journalists in Texas and they were all keen to help. So we have articles about Texas BBQ history, historical meat cuts and a great tale of how Texas came to rescue of a party at Cambridge by sending over a Texas longhorn steer and a team to BBQ it after the war.
We have decided early on that mutton would be on the menu as it used to be an important cut in Texas BBQ. The quality of lamb and mutton in England is exceptional and I think it really shines in the low and slow style.
What’s your favourite thing on the menu.
Brisket of course. We have worked very hard to source the best brisket we can get and now have a steady supply of the same brisket that people like Aaron Franklin use back at home. I also really dig our nachos. Each one is handcrafted and topped with beans, brisket, cheese and jalapenos. I hope they start a nacho revolution.
What’s the goal?
My goal always has been to share the food I grew up with in the most honest and pure way possible. I have no grander ambition than that.
What would you have for a death row meal?
I don’t plan on killing anyone so I don’t reckon I’ll be on death row ever.
And your favourite London restaurant?
I really dig Tayyabs. The lamb chops are amazing and so packed full of flavour.