Saturday, April 5, 2008

INTERVIEW: David Gelin, Author






David Gelin

David is the author of the recently released ‘BBQ Joints; Stories and Secret Recipes From the Barbecue Belt’. We thought we would ask David a few questions about the book and his thoughts on BBQ. We appreciate his spending some time with us.

Your local bookstore can order ‘BBQ Joints’ or you can pick it up on Amazon.com


Q. How did you get started in the world of BBQ?


I’ve always enjoyed finding the little out of the way gems. I even loved to grill (I have had a Big Green Egg for over a decade now). But I don’t think there are any Grand Nationals quaking in their aprons.

I am an advertising art director by vocation and a photographer by avocation. They didn’t tell me when I punched my ticket on the advertising train that I would have many periods of unemployment, and that my career would be essentially over at thirty-five. It was during one of those long periods when I got the idea for a personalized mass produced wall calendar. I even got a patent for the application.

I was “advised” by a calendar distributor who told me he believed in my product and would help me get it off the ground. I produced them. Then he sent me a contract where I was paying him up front and every month thereafter. I told him that he knew my situation and that he would get paid when I got paid. He did not want to do it that way, so I was going to have to pedal them myself.

I figured that I would be pushing them around my home state of Georgia, but I also needed a little something to endear myself to book stores around the state. I was trying to figure just what that would be when my buddy, Hamlin Endicott, took me to a BBQ joint for lunch. It was there I got my answer and six weeks later I finished a prototype “My-T-Fine B-B-Q Joints in Georgia” calendar.

I never actually produced it, because I went another direction with my personalized wall calendar. That is when my friend, Barrett Batson, a published writer, stopped by and saw the BBQ prototype and asked if she could send it to her publisher. I said. “Go knock yourself out. I’m not doing anything with it anyway.” I didn’t get my hopes up because they were not a calendar publisher.

A few weeks later I got a rejection from her publisher. I showed her the letter and she said that that is not the standard form letter rejection. He really liked it and said that I had something and that I should make it into a book. I just dismissed it because “I am not a writer.” But I wasn’t doing well at my chosen field anyway. What have I got to lose? I got a crappy seasonal job that would give me insurance, unemployment benefits in the off season and in my ample spare time I put together a good portion of the book which I called “Barbecue Joints and The Good Folks who Own Them.”

Long story short. I got my book in front of many publishers and received four offers. I was most impressed with Gibbs Smith, the man and his publishing house. Since then the book has become priority one and nearly two years after signing my contract, ‘BBQ Joints, Stories and Secret Recipes From the Barbecue Belt’ will hit the shelves.


Q. What does BBQ Joints offer the reader that they would have a hard time finding elsewhere?

What separates this book from all the other barbecue books is that it tells the stories of the characters (owners) behind the joints –through their words and my photographs.

Some were born into it. Most fell into it, but now that they are doing it, they can’t see themselves doing anything else. These people work very long, hard hours. Most are far from rich, but none of them consider it “a job.” It is more of a calling. Their payment comes in the pride of consistently delivering a very fine product and the love and gratitude they receive from their communities. This may sound like total BS, but it is real. I challenge anyone who is skeptical to go to one of these places and sit back and see for themselves. Odds are, the owner knows everyone eating in his joint personally, their spouse and the name of all their kids and dogs.


Q. If you were cooking for a foreign dignitary and they wanted the proto-typical BBQ meal, what would you provide them and what liquid refreshment would be served?


It doesn’t matter what meat I am served as long as it is slow cooked over wood or coals.
That said, if I were in Texas, it would be beef of links washed down with a Big Red or Dr. Pepper. In Georgia it would be pork with a Coca-Cola. Western Kentucky it would be Mutton with some sweet tea. It can get a little complicated in the Carolinas. The meat will be pork, but in Western North Carolina it would be a tomato-based sauce. Eastern North Carolina, it would be a vinegar-based sauce, and South Carolina it would be a mustard-based sauce. I would wash ‘em down with a Pepsi, Cheerwine or Sun Drop. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

Q. I know that tastes can vary from day to day, but right now, what’s your favorite regional BBQ.

I can honestly say I love it all, as long as it’s cooked right.
That said, if I could get some authentic Texas Que smoked with mesquite, or some whole hog Eastern Carolina vinegar based, or even some Kentucky mutton, I’d be very happy because I can’t get it around here (Georgia).

Q. What’s your favorite side dish that is usually served with BBQ?


I call them the cousins. If you are in Georgia, it’s Brunswick stew. Alabama, Camp stew. South Carolina, Hash. Kentucky, burgoo. Basically the same thing with regional differences.

Q. What BBQ side dish deserves more attention?


Macaroni salad. I may be all alone on this one, but I am a sucker for a great one. And quite frankly it is hard to find. I got a great one in my book complements of Denise Janow of Austin’s BBQ in Eagle Lake, Texas.

Q. With the recent ‘low and slow’ renaissance, where do you see BBQ in 10 years?


I hear that barbecue is now chic in New York City (said with the feeling of that Pace Picante Sauce commercial). That is a good thing, because even mediocre barbecue is pretty good. Hopefully it will inspire people to seek out the real thing, and ultimately bring more folks into the art that is fine barbecue.

One of the more inspirational stories in my book is that of Alfredo Rosales. He came to America from Cuba as a man. He never had barbecue until a friend took him to pseudo-barbecue chain. He loved it. Then he went to a real, venerable joint, Uncle Tom’s in Coral Gables, Florida. He instantly became more than a regular, and when he heard the owner wanted to sell. He moved Heaven and Earth to acquire it. Now he is the owner. He put a Cuban twist to the menu, but a woman enjoying ribs told me they were as good as she remembered them as a girl in the 1950’s.

Q. If you could sit by the pit and swap recipes and techniques with one person, who would it be?

No question about it, George Archibald Jr. of Archibald’s Barbecue in Northpoint, Alabama. He is truly a master of his craft and the beauty of it is you can actually watch him perform. His place is essentially a take-out because there are only seven stools in front of the counter. Behind the counter is his pit. George has one eye on the customers and the other on the pit. When the flame gets too high, he hits it with his hose.

His ribs are absolutely legendary, and he doesn’t doctor them up one iota. Just hickory smoke and a lifetime of experience.

Q. What music do you listen to most often while cooking?


What a wonderful question! I’m a big time folkie. The odds are real good that Townes Van Zandt is on my CD platter. When I go to a joint I gotta hear blues or gospel. One very famous joint had Kenny G pumped in. That would have been ground for exclusion all by itself, but he Que was mediocre.

The most disappointed I have ever been was at the Texas Chili Parlor. That place was made almost famous in the Guy Clark song “Dublin Blues”

I wished I was in Austin in the Chili Parlor Bar.
Drink’n Mad Dog margaritas, and not carin’ where you are.
But here I sit in Dublin just rollin’ cigarettes
Holdin’ back and choakin’ back the shakes with every breath.

They had Elton John’s Crocodile Rock playing. What a disappointment!

Q. Where can the readers find more information on you and ‘BBQ Joints’?

I have a web site davidgelin.com. It has a link to Amazon where you can put in an order for my book. It will be hitting the shelves in April.

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