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Austin Chefs Take First at National Barbecue Competition

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The Carillon’s Josh Watkins and team trounce the competition with their unique brand of barbeque.

By Leo B. Carter

At this year’s Smoke@ICC competition during the eighth annual International Chefs Congress hosted on the banks of the Hudson in New York City, there was more at stake than just bragging rights: a $12,000 Southern Pride Smoker, an all-expenses-paid trip to Korea and the prestige that would surely garner the winning chefs some nationwide attention. The competition, which centered on barbecue—with an Asian twist—showcased several teams from Texas. Present were San Antonio’s Jason Dady of Two Bros Barbecue Market, Ronnie Killen from Killen’s Barbecue in Houston and Austin’s Josh Watkins and team from The Carillon.

Before coming to this competition, barbecue wasn’t a big focus for Chef Watkins. Only since deciding to compete in Smoke@ICC have the chefs of The Carillon been serving barbeque in the restaurant and at other events. At the time, The Carillon team was new behind the smoker, but that didn’t seem to be much of a handicap for them. They took top spots in all three rounds of the competition (Regional American, New World, Asian), including first in the Asian Barbecue category, and most importantly, first overall with the grand-prize honor.

Watkins, an Austin native, attended the California Culinary Academy and worked as executive chef of the Driskill Hotel before opening The Carillon in 2008. His cuisine focuses predominantly on the quality and freshness of ingredients, eschewing over-complicated dishes. In round one, The Carillon team did not shy away from Texas flavor with their smoked quail, fired corn, yucca crisps, artichoke purée and tomatillo.

Watkins’ partner, Chef Plinio Sandalio, led the team to victory in round three with his Pork Butt Bibimbap, an American barbecue favorite served up in a traditional Korean way. Use of pecan shells in the smoking process “definitely brings out the Texas flare,” Watkins says in an interview with sponsor Southern Pride shortly after the announcement of their victory. “Why would I come to New York and do what everybody else does?”

Good point. Hailing from Central Texas means that the world’s best barbecue traditions are simply a part of who they are and they have a certain standard to uphold. The Carillon has been showered with awards since 2010. Last year alone, the restaurant took first place in the Tops in Texas Cook-off, Star Chefs Rising Star Award, and first place at Austin Food & Wine’s Live Fire and Wine and Swine competitions.

In a recent interview with ATX Man, Watkins tells us about his restaurant, located at 1900 University Ave., and his recent victory at Smoke@ICC.

ATX Man: Tell us a little about your restaurant and what you do there.

Josh Watkins: The Carillon restaurant is a New-American cuisine establishment, which enables us to cook within what is America’s melting pot and tweak old American classics. New-American cuisine keeps things true. We want to keep the indigenous cuisine to whichever region true. If we’re going to do Asian, we’re going to do Asian. If we’re going to do French, we’re going to do French. [We] keep it true to its origin to the best of our ability but with our own interpretation.

AM: Was it a big challenge going in to the Smoke@ICC competition?

JW: Absolutely. We were the only people who didn’t have a barbecue r estaurant. I was scared. We were going up against these people who w ere tried-and-true barbecue champions, and for us to come out on top was a special thing.

AM: Your team placed in the top five in all three categories at the competition. To what do you attribute this consistent success?

JW: Without question, flavor profiling. At the end of the day, what you’re looking at is sweet, sour, salty and umami. What that means is flavor balance. That was our whole approach at the competition and generally speaking at our restaurant.

AM: What is your favorite ingredient to work with?

JW: My answer is two-fold: citrus and really, really great olive oil. Or even better, then put together.

AM: What are the advantages and disadvantages of your new renown as celebrity chef?

JW: I don’t know about new renown or celebrity chef. I appreciate the comment, but for me, it’s just about cooking food for a living. When you practice a craft, all you can do is continue to push the envelope.

Brisket Tacos with Queso and Pickled Slaw

Serves 4

Brisket Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds brisket
  • 1 cup celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 cups yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, diced
  • 1 tablespoon shallots, diced
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup gojuchang paste

Queso Ingredients:

  • 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, roughly chopped
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 2 cups Half & Half
  • 1 pound American cheese

Slaw Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup white cabbage, shredded
  • 1/2 cup purple cabbage, shredded
  • 1/4 cup carrots, shredded
  • 1/4 cup yellow onions, finely julienned
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt

Brisket Directions: Place celery, onions and carrots in a smoker and let smoke/cook for one hour. Liberally season brisket on all sides with 1/2 cup gojuchang, salt and pepper. In a large saute pan, sear brisket on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside. In the same pan, add smoked celery, onion and carrots. Add 1 tablespoon garlic, mushroom and Roma tomatoes. Let cook three minutes. Add tomato paste and the remaining gojuchang, and deglaze with wine. Add stock and bring to a boil. Place brisket in a deep, oven-safe roasting pan. Cover with hot vegetable/stock mix and add thyme and bay leaf. Cover and place in 200-degree oven. Cook 18 to 24 hours or until tender. When ready to serve, remove from liquid then shred and season with salt and gojuchang to taste.

Queso Directions: Place all the vegetables in a medium- sized pot over medium heat. Saute until tender then add Half & Half and cheese. Cook over low heat until cheese is melted then add cilantro. Purée then season with salt to taste.

Pickled Slaw Directions: Place water, vinegar, salt and sugar in a medium sauce pot and bring to a boil. Combine cabbage, carrots and onions and pour liquid on top. Cover with plastic and let cool in and ice bath.

To Assemble: Heat up your preferred tortillas and top with brisket, queso and slaw.


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