I fell in love with all things barbecue during a trip to Whistler. While there, I visited a local barbeque restaurant called Dusty's and was captivated by their smoking and grilling techniques and the concept of a barbecue joint. Coming from a fine dining background, I felt challenged by the discovery of a whole new style of cooking that I wasn't initially good at. I had a personal mission to master it and open up my own location. When a spot in Blue Mountain came up, I bought a 10-foot barbecue smoker, opened Rusty's at Blue and never looked back.
From there, I put my grilling knowledge to the test by enrolling in barbecue competitions across North America with my team, Black Pig. Our first competition was the Frank X. Tolbert-Wick Fowler Memorial Championship Chili Cookoff in Terlingua, Texas, and my barbecue team and I had company: 2000 people packed with RV's, smoker barbecues and cowboy camps. We knew our product was good, but we really didn't know much about Texas cooking other than what we'd read, so when they called our ticket number for eighth place in ribs we couldn't believe it! A top 10 in our first competition on foreign soil gave us the confidence to take on other competitions, including the famed Jack Daniel's World Championship Invitational Barbeque and the Memphis in May World Championship. These events gather some of the most seasoned BBQ masters in the continent and the competition is fierce! I was lucky enough to garner first place in the "Home Cooking from the Homeland" category and also received a perfect score of 180 in the "Cooks Choice" category at the Jack Daniel's World Championship. At the Memphis in May World Championship we won fifth overall in Whole Hog.
My experience in barbeque was definitely informed by my training in fine dining at the start of my career. I was trained at George Brown College in Toronto where I received the necessary credentials to being my culinary quest. As with many careers out there, I soaked up the most knowledge when I got out of the classroom and went on the job. A trip around Europe allowed me to discover a variety of dishes from different countries, and I eventually settled in England to work in a high volume trattoria in Manchester called Est Est Est. I then returned to Toronto and landed an apprenticeship at North 44 under Mark McEwan where I learned to cook great food quickly and also developed a greater understanding of the business element of running a restaurant. I returned to England and worked under the guidance of one of Europe's greatest chefs, Albert Roux. This was a turning point in my career as my classical cooking skills really blossomed and I began to really understand the intricacies of food. It was in 1995 when I came back to Toronto once again to open my first restaurant Terra.
At the heart of my passion for barbecue and fine dining is my philosophy: use the best and the freshest ingredients possible, keep it simple, and allow the natural quality of the ingredients to shine. Being heavily involved in the world of barbecue I have discovered that many well-known barbecue tips are in fact untrue. Having been around the barbecue block, let me share my best advice with those of you that will be lighting up your barbecues this coming Canada Day:
• There's the common misconception that marinating your meat a day in advance is the best way to add flavour. Marinades, like red wine, usually contain acidic properties, which will dry your meat out. Instead, you'll want to use a dry rub or some fresh herbs on your meat minutes before cooking it on the barbecue. I like to blend parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme with a splash of olive oil and a bit of salt. Contrary to popular belief, salt won't dry out your meat. Along with some fresh spices, it actually brings the flavour out.
• Once your meat is on the barbecue, avoid moving it around too much -- four is the magic number. The more you touch the meat, the more juice it loses, which not only dries up the meat but also drips down into the barbecue flame, causing flare up.
• Another way to avoid flaring up your barbecue when cooking chicken is to put it down on the barbecue bone side first (not skin side) because the skin will turn to fat and will drip into the flame.
• To perfect the presentation and get perfect grill marks on your meat, start your barbecue off at a really high temperature (500 degrees or higher) and once you put your meat on the grill leave it there for about a minute and a half to two minutes, then flip it so that the opposite side is facing the grate. After about a minute or two, flip your meat back to its original side on an angle to get that crisscross effect. Flip your meat onto the opposite side one last time, placing at a 45-degree angle to the grate. Once you've turned over the meat four times, let it rest for about 10 minutes between when it comes off the barbecue and when you serve it. Remember, meat is a muscle that tightens up when cooked, and relaxes and expands once off the barbecue. When meat is cooked, juices are forced to the centre. Once it has a chance to rest a bit, the blood will be redistributed throughout the meat, making it more tender.
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