A Saucy Resurgence

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Barbecue is attracting a cult following as foodies seek back-to-roots cooking—and Dr. BBQ has plans to bring a modern twist to Florida.

Similar to how the best barbecue is made, Ray Lampe’s culinary expertise has been steadily cooking since 1982, long before he made it his career. The Chicago native spent 25 years in his family trucking business as his day job—all the while competing in barbecue cook-offs and testing a variety of barbecue styles; because cooking was something he loved to do.

And somewhere between winning awards at cook-offs and penning nine cookbooks on the art of BBQ, he earned the moniker “Dr. BBQ” that perhaps best solidifies his place among the pitmasters.

While barbecue never goes out of style, consumers’ cravings for hot and spicy flavors, slowcooked meats and authentic culinary experiences is pushing barbecue competitions, pitmasters and especially barbecue sauces into the limelight. “We have this new wave of restaurants taking it in a whole new direction,” Lampe says. “They’re going back to the roots of barbecue, with guys staying up all night to tend to the barbecue pits.”

A longtime member of the Barbecue Hall of Fame, Dr. BBQ is opening his eponymous restaurant this Fall 2017 in Tampa Bay, Florida, with a goal to keep the surge of saucy excitement alive. To this point, in his now storied career, Lampe’s restaurant experience includes just one stop: In 2008, he added executive chef to his resume when he was called in to revitalize Justin Timberlake’s Southern Hospitality restaurant in New York City.

The first Dr. BBQ venture will be located in St. Petersburg, Florida’s up-and-coming Edge District, which is seeing a revitalization of art, microbreweries and more than a dozen murals among its preserved historic buildings. Independent retailers are sprouting up as tourists and locals alike wander over from St. Pete’s opulent Beach Drive, home to multi-million-dollar penthouses. To this hip, artsy, Millennial-focused district, Lampe hopes to inspire guests with his version of New American barbecue.

“Twenty years ago, nobody cared,” he recalls. “But now, it’s a big deal.” Among the barbecue scene, Lampe is instantly recognized for his signature long white beard as much as he is for his knowledge. “We have this whole group of artisan barbecuers— new guys taking these old techniques, perfecting them and cooking some really good stuff.”

It’s that modern spin on the old, authentic flavors that Lampe thinks will attract a loyal customer base. But he admits that it’s not easy to continually reinvent a time-honored American tradition; true pit masters must pay homage to tradition but still offer something unique. “We have to really think about every single one of those dishes and somehow make it special,” Lampe says. “Then, at the end of the day, we’re going to have a menu with as deep roots as traditional barbecue but very unique, wellthought- out and modern.”

While Lampe acknowledges the history of regional differences when it comes to technique— as they vary with different sauces, cooking methods and the type of meat used—he also encourages chefs to shed their fears of regional differences when it comes to their menus. In other words, no matter where you’re located in the United States, don’t be afraid to take risks and introduce your customers to new experiences.

Chefs around the country are putting barbecue in its rightful place: as a true American cuisine. It’s an unique art form, different from the rest of culinary in that it has its own culture; a fierce following; and severe attitude. And younger chefs are catching on quickly. “Every chef I met in the early days wanted to sear the brisket and roast it for a little while,” says Lampe, who notes that the outcome will never be ideal. “They didn’t understand that we knew how to do something different. But now, that’s changed.” There has been a shift in appreciation for the craft, he says; similar to the art of cheesemaking, cake decorating or craft brewing. Barbecue, he says, has now joined those crafts of knowledge, skill and artistry.

“That evolution, for me, has opened the doors, and I can say we’ve finally reached the point where there are a lot of quality barbecue guys that have these chef skills,” he says. “They’re putting their spin on it and are now achieving something really special.”

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