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Talking turkey makes Texan cuisine more than tasty

WHEN it comes to tackling the great cuisines of the world, it is natural that certain elements of the language must also be assimilated. Modern French fare would not be as impressive without knowing the painstaking effort it takes to sous-vide something, while these days everyone wants their pasta to be al dente.

It would seem that no foodie worth his salt would be caught dead without a few "foreign" words peppering his speech.

Funny then, how that aura of sophistication is linked to being able to prattle on in French, Italian or Japanese.

The language spoken at Bubba's Texas-style Bar-B-Que & Saloon may not be the same spoken by your average gourmand, but there is a certain sophistication of sorts employed by the crowd that frequent it.

"Our BBQ doesn't mean hamburgers and steaks and stuff," says Kenneth Walker, proprietor of Shanghai's first Texas BBQ joint. "This is the typical stuff you get back in Texas."

For the past three years, Bubba's has been wooing customers with huge portions of slow smoked beef brisket, pulled pork and smoked chicken, and other fare typical of the state. Next to the Marriott Hongqiao, the venue is a destination in its own right, appealing first and foremostly to Walker's American brethren, not to mention anyone simply looking for a great big feed.

The backyard smoker is the first indication that Walker and his crew take the art of cooking meat seriously. The contraption, which appears archaic, reaches temperatures of about 104 degrees Celsius and is a staple in most suburban Texan households. Walker, for one, has spent a lifetime tinkering with the art (he describes it as something one could do all day) and, when he decided to move on from his career in corporate marketing, decided to turn his passion into his livelihood.

The first step for the Indiana native, who moved to Austin at an early age, was to locate an industrial smoking machine capable of handling the volume and precision required by a commercial operation.

Initially looking to import one from the United States, Walker was able to make substantial savings on his investment (a new machine typically retailed for about US$15,000 then) by buying one from an American franchise in Jing'an District that had recently gone out of business.

Fired by apple wood sourced from northern China, the smoke cooks the meat consistently at a low temperature that both tenderizes and locks in the flavor.

Having had an obsession with BBQ-ing for most of his life, the 46-year-old Walker also serves his special recipe BBQ and mayonnaise-based pulled pork sauces. "The secret is to make it with love," he says with a hearty chuckle. "It also has to be spicy and pack heat."

The avid golfer pointed out (it is also detailed in the menu) that there were two schools of Texas BBQ - wet and dry. A wet smoked cut of meat is smothered, or "mopped" to use the lingo, with sauce during cooking to keep it moist, and then once again prior to serving.

Walker prefers the dry style, rubbing the meat with herbs and spices before cooking, and leaving customers free to dip their food in the sauce as they eat.

It was pointed out that meat consumption in the Chinese mainland was increasing with economic expansion but most would be startled by the sheer size of the servings on the plate. After years of experimenting, Walker has settled on using mostly meat imported from a place close to his heart. "We tried local (meats like) chicken but they just shriveled during the smoking process."

Beef brisket - 100 yuan (US14.60) - may be a cut unfamiliar to those without an oven, but the portion from behind the ribs is tougher and stands the rigor of intense cooking. Southern style, Carolina pulled pork (80 yuan) may be against his Texan pronouncements but it is another dish Walker serves with pride - tender and juicy to the point where it (as it says on the tin) falls apart in your mouth.

The pork ribs (100 yuan for four, 180 yuan for eight) are massive slabs of pig bound to appease those who feel that food has fill the stomach as well. The smoked dishes are served with a choice of two sides, which includes fries, coleslaw and jalapeno corn muffins, among others.

Walker has recently added other items to his repertoire. "I couldn't eat any more BBQ, and customers agreed," he says, tongue firmly in cheek. With the spate of Cal-Mex restaurants recently opening, Bubba's offers Tex-Mex cheesy enchiladas (80 yuan), best described as great hangover food. The steaks, supplied by P.R.I.M.E meats, are similarly massive and present excellent value, with a rib eye going for 190 yuan and a cowboy porterhouse at 300 yuan. The supplier also provides the chuck for the various beef burgers on the menu, also recent additions.

Part of the reason Walker was confident in expanding his menu was the hiring of Chicago native Michael Solovey. The Cordon Bleu-trained chef was formerly a commercial photographer before donning the chef's whites and toque to combine his passion with business. He had previously consulted on a friend's restaurants before he decided to take formal training, appreciating the discipline in the process.

While he may have been steeped in the ways of the Escoffier brigade, the saucier by training is quick to rally against jargon-toting food snobs who consider BBQ to be an inferior cuisine. "Folks better be careful where they say it," he says with a wry smile.

Address: 2262 Hongqiao Rd

Tel: 6242-2612


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