Table Talk: Andy Husbands of the Smoke Shop
Welcome to Table Talk, a series where we get to know your favorite local food industry professionals.
The Smoke Shop might be a recent addition to Kendall Square, but the chef behind it is anything but new to town. For more than 20 years, Andy Husbands has helmed Tremont 647, whose inventive fare has led a culinary renaissance in the South End. Husbands has spent the past year building a similar reputation in Cambridge for his barbecue, a longtime passion he’s spun into a full-fledged dining destination, and his new book, Pitmaster, co-authored with longtime barbecue partner Chris Hart, is a best-seller on Amazon. We caught up with the pitmaster and restaurateur who’s becoming more synonymous with smoky, tender ’que.
What’s your favorite ingredient?
Ribs, ribs, ribs. [laughs]. But when I’m cooking at home, since I’m working on a spring menu, right now it’s asparagus. This will be our first spring at the Smoke Shop, so we’re pretty excited. One of my favorite things about cooking is the seasons, so as cooks in New England, we get excited [about] fava beans, asparagus, fiddleheads, all that stuff.
What kitchen tool have you worn out at the restaurant?
We have barbecue gloves—think of them like welding gloves—and we blow through so many pairs. We’re on a trajectory to do 60,000 pounds of brisket this year, and when you pull it out of the smoker, you have to use these big, heavy, thick gloves. We go through a pair about every month and a half.
What music do you rock in the kitchen?
That’s a very sensitive question [laughs]. Everybody wants to listen to different things. I would say the xx, maybe. I’m not sure which songs, but I know [it’s] is always on. If it was just me, it’s George Jones, George Strait, or Johnny Cash.
Do you have a kitchen horror story?
Yes, and it ended with me in the hospital. This was [during] the early days at Tremont 647, and it was really busy. First of all, we started getting all these comments back that the food was too salty. So we were trying to figure out what was happening, and we realized that we had changed brands of salt. It was a different style of flake, and we were using more than we normally use. So that set us back a bit, because we’re re-cooking stuff.
At the same time, I had a gentleman who was upset [because] he just wanted to sit at a table and have a drink, and we were on an hour wait. I was trying to explain to him that we had people [waiting] to dine, and we would gladly get him a drink at the bar, but we needed tables. He decided to lecture me that he was in business school, and that we would be out of business very soon. I’d like to point out that 20 years later, we’re still open [laughs].
Then, I was working with some halibut because one of my cooks couldn’t slit the fish. I came back [to the kitchen], and as I’m leaning down, the olive oil splattered up and burnt my face. So I had to go to the hospital. We’ve had many days like that—I’m sure many people do in their field—but we learn from them.
What’s your go-to shift drink?
It’s called a Boulevardier. It’s a Negroni, but instead of gin, it’s made with bourbon. I’m a huge bourbon and rye drinker, but when you drink them on the rocks, they’re rather strong. So it’s nice to have more of a cocktail. And it’s [made] with Campari and sweet vermouth, which are lower octane: it’s not as strong and you can really enjoy the flavor.
I’m also a sour beer fiend. We constantly have rotating sours on our beer list. Anytime [our beer buyer] gets a new one in, I’m happy to try it.
If you could collaborate with anyone locally, who would you want to work with?
Ana Sortun from Oleana, just because her cooking style is so different than mine; I love those huge flavors that she does. It’d also be fun to [work with] somebody like Frank McClelland doing all of that fancy stuff: the juxtaposition of a L’Espalier-meets-Smoke Shop would be fun. Fancy meets down-and-dirty barbecue.
When did you realize you wanted to be a chef?
Junior year of high school, I went with my buddy to Johnson & Wales [College of Culinary Arts]. I had never seen anything like that: I didn’t even know that opportunity was available. And I was like, “This is what I want to do.” Fast forward several years, I’m working for Chris Schlesinger at East Coast Grill, and it was everything I wanted a restaurant to be: a place for neighbors to come, good food, great hospitality, fun staff. It just seemed like I could do this, too. Chris really helped me feel how it was all possible.
When did you get into barbecue, specifically?
Truth be told, I don’t think I had tried real barbecue until I was 20 and working for Chris. I’ve been passionate about it ever since. It’s really been my sport: it’s my golf, my fishing. Maybe five years back, I just started thinking, “Is this something I want to do as my occupation as well?” Life just comes at you, and you realize, “Here I am, and I’m ready to do this.” There’s no exact moment: a culmination of passion, drive, and curiosity got me to open [the Smoke Shop].
If you could grab coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
Probably Joe Biden. He seems like a good dude [laughs]. If I could, it’d be Uncle Joe and Kurt Cobain. That would just be a really fun day, and coffee date.
The Smoke Shop, One Kendall Square, Cambridge, 617-577-7427, thesmokeshopbbq.com.