Masters of the Pit: Sam Talbot
December 6, 2011
I first met Sam Talbot shortly after he was a semi-finalist on Season 2 of Bravo’s Top Chef and have followed his career closely ever since. So when I stumbled upon him on the streets of New York City a few weeks ago, I knew that this North Carolina boy would be next in line for Grilling.com’s ongoing “Masters of the Pit” interview series.
First of all, Sam, growing up in North Carolina I would have to assume you know a thing or two about outdoor cooking. What’s your earliest memory of barbecue and grilling?
My friend Matty, who works with me on my various restaurant projects, and I grew up grilling together. It’s what we did for fun, fish then throw ‘em whole on the grill.
So what in your mind makes Carolina barbecue so unique? Are there certain cuts of meat, flavor profiles, or cooking styles that really set it apart in your mind from Texas, Memphis, Kansas City and the rest of the meccas?
The Carolina vinegar-based sauce is what does it for me. As you know people into BBQ and grilling have very strong opinions and in my mind that is the only way to mop.
You’ve done a lot since those early days including head chef gigs at a highly popular spot in Montauk, NY and another in New York City. Do you get much of a chance to incorporate outdoor cooking in to your current professional lifestyle?
I have a giant grill on a screened off porch up in the Catskills. When I am up there it is my favorite room in the house and I practically live in there.
Jumping back 5 or so years when you broke into the spotlight on Top Chef, I seem to recall some sort of grilling by fire episode on a beach? How’d that work out?
That’s correct. Unfortunately, if you are into gray eggs, burnt bagels and some oddly placed strawberries then I would say it worked out wonderfully!
Enough of the past. Let’s talk about today. I’ve had the chance to check out your new cookbook, The Sweet Life, and I must say that it is one of the most fascinating cookbooks I have read in a long, long time. I guess what sets it apart is that it’s not simply about your passion for food, but your passion for life. For those who may not know, you were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 12, correct?
Yes. I learned at a very young age about the words “terminal” and “disease” which up until that point were only things I’ve read about in school books. I also learned at young age about the importance of food and its effects on the body. I live my life to the fullest, a life without boundaries, and diabetes comes in second or third but I put my life first. It is also why I have partnered with JDRF to start my “Sweet Life Kitchen” foundation to raise awareness about the disease. I also work with the makers of Truvia, the natural sweetener made from the stevia plant, to devise recipes that don’t need sugar but sacrifice none of the taste or sweetness.
Nice. So perhaps you could explain the “Cook Nice” premise of the book as many people may not realize that managing blood sugar levels and staying healthy doesn’t necessarily mean giving up one’s love for flavor packed dishes?
“Cook Nice,” as simple as it seems, means exactly that. Cooking nice, to me, means, to cook with an open mind, to cook thoughtfully, to cook with love and to take the time to cook things that make sense overall for mind, body and soul.
Reading through the book, there are definitely some amazing recipes done outdoors but one of my favorites was your Grilled Scallops with Chimichurri Sauce. A whole lot of people I know love grilled scallops when they eat out but when they try to do them at home they come out like rubber hockey pucks. Any tips you can provide to make them perfectly, chef?
I treat scallops like Oreos — crunchy on the outside and creamy in the middle. Get a nice hard sear on the scallops, then quickly turn over, do the same and pull off the heat, about a minute and a half or two minutes on each side.
Thanks so much again, Sam, and I’m sure that members of the Grilling.com community, as well as myself, will be cooking a whole lot nicer thanks to your insight and creative direction.
Clint Cantwell, Grilling.com Editor