Barbecue with a Texas accent
If you want to rile Dick Reno, go to the window of his food truck and order a hamburger.
He’s the new chef at The Smokin’ Barrel on Front Street, and recently revamped the menu to reflect a Texas barbecue theme.
His idea was to expand what he perceived as a limited variety in local offerings. He saw hamburgers on every corner, whether the restaurant was upscale or not.
His customers whisper that “he’s a little arrogant”.
“I’m Texan and Texans are a proud people,” the 31-year-old said, shrugging. “Some customers ask for hamburgers or fish sandwiches. I tell them if they want that, go somewhere else.
“But before they go I give them a taste of our food. Texas barbecue is more about smoking meats. Most barbecue joints in Texas would not have hamburgers on the menu. A burger is a burger and if you want one, you go to a hamburger joint. We are doing Texas-style barbecue. That is not to say that we would not do burgers if hired for a catering function. I am a fully-trained chef and can do anything under the sun.”
Burgers, fries, fish sandwiches and jerk dishes were on the menu before Mr Reno joined The Smokin’ Barrel early last month.
He learnt to cook barbecue while working at River Oaks Country Club in Houston, his home town.
“Three years ago, I was approached by a headhunter about working for the Mid Ocean Club in Bermuda,” he said. “I was like, ‘What’s a Bermuda?’. Bermuda is 1,800 miles from Texas and I’d never heard of it.
“I looked up the Mid Ocean Club online and couldn’t really see anything about it. I did see Bermuda’s blue water and pink beaches and thought, ‘Yeah, that looks good’.”
His early months on the Island did not go well. “It felt like I was working all the time,” he said. “The people I was working with were also working all the time.
“It took me a long time to find my crowd. At first I wanted to go home, but I told myself, ‘Hey, you’re here for a job’.”
He joined Mariners RFC and became a lot happier.
“Yeah, we’ve heard of rugby in Texas,” he said. “I always liked sports and played a lot of American football, so it works for me.”
He won the Eliza DoLittle Society Soup-A-Bowl competition twice. He is sure he would have won it a third time if the competition had been offered.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t have it because the Hamilton Princess was revamping,” he said.
When his contract ended at Mid Ocean he jumped at the chance to work at The Smokin’ Barrel.
He proposed a Texas barbecue style to owner Kemar Maybury, and ran with the idea.
“Sure it was a risk to move to a food truck,” Mr Reno said. “But you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette. I’ve always worked in exclusive clubs, so this was a chance to get some exposure and be known.
“Hey, if it doesn’t work out I can always go somewhere else. Bermuda and the United States aren’t the limit. I can go anywhere.
“But I’ve never failed at anything I’ve put my mind to.”
Bringing authentic Texas barbecue to Bermuda has not been without its kinks.
Texans smoke their meat with fragrant woods such as apple, hickory, mesquite or oak.
“Cedar doesn’t work so well in Texas, but for some reason works much better in Bermuda, possibly due to climate differences,” he said. “It’s not just difficult to source the wood here, it is expensive. We use a combination of coal, cedar when we can get it and casuarina.
“We are trying to find a regular stock of casuarina right now. The casuarina does give it a richer smoke, and a subtly different flavour.”
He calls meat smoking a “lovemaking process” because it is so time-intensive.
“You really have to pay attention to detail,” he said. “The hardest thing about it is maintaining patience.
“You have to know the feeling of the smoker. If it is windy or the temperature drops you need to know whether to put more wood in. You don’t want to open the door that much.
“The temperature always has to be between 225°F and 250°F. You don’t want to break 300°F and you don’t want to go below 200°F.”
Mr Reno decided at 15 that he wanted to be a chef.
“I knew I didn’t want to sit in an office all day at a keyboard,” he said. “I wanted to be more hands-on, working to make people happy. I wanted to have something to show for myself.”
His family were pretty happy about his choice except his grandfather, who wanted him to work for the government.
Mr Reno still snorts at the idea, because he loves cooking, and eating.
He considers his biggest job hazard getting fat.
“I try not to eat a lot of it,” he said. “And I am pretty active.”
His favourite dish is ramen noodles.
“They are so versatile,” he said. “Last night I took some of the brisket from the food truck, combined it with a fried egg and some kale and boom, I had a high-end meal. It was delicious.”
• The Smokin’ Barrel is open Monday to Friday from 11am to 4pm and 6pm to 10pm. Check out The Smokin’ Barrel on Facebook: Smokinbarrelbda
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