The Man behind the Smoke : Evan LeRoy

I am going to try something new with the blog. I have never considered myself a writer. I kind of want to stretch out my writing legs a little bit. Please let know what you think of this piece. If this works out, I might try to do something similar frequently.

When most people go to a restaurant, they look for good service and good food. They do not care how everything else works. This also applies to barbecue joints as well. Many pitmasters put their livelihood into the smoked meats they serve to you. They spend all night prepping and tending the fires. It is often a thankless job. I am going to try to shine some light on some of these pitmasters with a series called "The Man behind the Smoke." It will not be limited to just males. I just happened to call it this because the field is dominated by men. There are only a few handfuls of their counterparts out there.
The first spotlight belongs to Evan LeRoy of Freedmen's Bar.

If you have never tried the barbecue from Freedmen's, shame on you. Get in the car and drive there now. If I could describe it in a simple manner, I would say it is awesomely delicious. I am a big fan of the brisket and pork belly because they are both succulent and phenomenal. They are two of my favorite meats to get in Austin if that means anything. Evan has been at Freedmen's since the opening. He actually stumbled upon the job while looking for supplies on Craigslist. I would venture to say this has been the ideal match.

Born in 1986, Evan LeRoy has spent most of his life in Austin. He attended St. Michael's Catholic Academy where he also played soccer and lacrosse. His career aspiration was to get into the film industry so he wanted to attend college in the Southern California area. Things did not work out the way there were supposed to. When it came down to it, he had a choice of staying in Austin to attend UT or leave home and go to Florida State University. I think most kids would elect to leave home to get away from their parental units.

At FSU, Evan majored in English and envisioned that he would be a writer someday. During his time in Florida, he met two people that would impact his life. He met Diego Abreu while working at a fish restaurant. Diego is now the sous chef at Freedmen's. The other person Evan met is now the most important person in his life. He met his wife Lindsey when they were both writing for the school newspaper. The couple recently got married. Congratulations!

After graduating from college, LeRoy headed back to Austin. His goal was to become a food writer. To hone on his skills, he furthered his education at Le Cordon Bleu. His love for food started right around the time when TV food shows started to become popular, especially Good Eats. “Alton Brown is a personal culinary hero of mine. Love the way he makes culinary education so entertaining,” Evan adds. During his time in culinary school, he also worked at Hudson's on the Bend.

With Lindsey in New York City for an internship, Evan made the move to the Big Apple. He worked at a couple of restaurants and experienced culture shock. Although everything was not going to plan, Evan learned a lot from the whole ordeal. He eventually landed a gig at Hill Country Barbecue. “I worked my way up. I started on the line and then became a cook. I was promoted to pitmaster when the prior one quit during a health inspection,” Evan says. He was there for a year but knew he had to make his way back to Texas to chase his dreams. On a trip to North Carolina one time, Evan tried the barbecue there and hated it. He thought it was dry and bland. He definitely belongs in Texas.

After landing back in Austin, LeRoy actually worked at Lambert's Downtown Barbecue for three days. Differences in food philosophy led to a quick exit. LeRoy managed a Torchy's as he was laying down the footwork for his own food truck. The ultimate goal for him is to own his own restaurant. While gathering supplies for his own food truck, he came across upon the posting for Freedmen's. Freedmen's Bar has been in existence for about a year and a half now. Directed by their pitmaster's ideals, a lot of the food is made from scratch. The barbecue sauce takes two days to make. I am enamored with the pulled pork sauce. I like that are Asian inspirations behind the sauce. The sauce consists of apple cider vinegar, hot sauce, and fish sauce.

Around 5 pm the evening before, natural choice briskets and pork butts are loaded into the smoker and smoked for about 12 hours. A simple salt and pepper rub envelops the meat. The bottoms of the meats are covered with foil right before the restaurant is closed. This process makes sense because the meat will not dry out as fast but still absorb all that post oak smoke. Once the brisket and butts are removed in the morning, the pork ribs go in. After about four hours in the smoker, barbecue sauce and jalapeƱo jelly are layered on to the ribs and then wrapped in foil. The resulting products simply amaze me. The mouthwatering meats taste smoky and tender. They also produce their own sausage in house. Not many places in Austin do that. No meat scares Evan. He has mastered smoking quail, duck, prime rib, and lamb ribs to name a few.

To help with flexibility, Freedmen's just procured a second smoker. Even on their busiest day, which is Friday, no line is to be found. That is good thing because LeRoy hates lines. Who wants to wait in line for barbecue? He also despises brunch. “It is a quick turnaround for the wait staff and bartenders. Who wants to deal with hung-over and hungry crowd,” Evan says. He would rather cook his own meal. If I had skills like him, I would probably think the same way.

When it comes down to preference, LeRoy chooses his brisket fatty. I could not agree with him more. Some of his favorite barbecue places in town are La Barbecue, Micklethwait Craft Meats, and Valentina's Tex-Mex BBQ. “I am jealous of Valentina's. When I was planning to open up my own truck, I wanted to do barbecue and homemade tortillas,” Evan says. If you are putting out good food, you have his respect. He does love some tacos. For someone growing up in Austin, tacos have to be a staple in their diet. He also enjoys a good pasta dish. For the most part, he just loves food and likes to try new and different restaurants.

In his free time, Evan cherishes his time with his wife and their dog, Star. He sees them having a couple of kids down the road. Lindsey is in the restaurant public relations field. On the weekends, you might see them hanging out with friends and drinking some local craft brews. They are die-hard Seminoles football fans. For whatever reason, LeRoy also cheers for the Dallas Cowboys. He saves himself by saying he does not agree with the way that Jerry Jones runs the team. Bruce Springsteen is Evan’s favorite musician, and he thinks it would be awesome to meet him someday. While LeRoy was still in NYC, Springsteen actually stopped in for dinner at the restaurant where he was working, but Evan was polite and gave The Boss his privacy.

Evan LeRoy lives life with no regrets. He would not switch places with anyone in the world. He is never satisfied in his work, and his drive and determination is a good indicator of his character. Even when he is not at the restaurant during business hours, nervousness and anxiety sets in. LeRoy wants the barbecue to be on point all the time because Freedmen's and his reputation are on the line. He has no understanding why some places do not try to smoke the best barbecue. Life is too short to eat mediocre barbecue. Everyday Evan strives to make Freedmen's Bar a top destination for some of the best BBQ in the state. I am excited to see what Evan LeRoy brings to the table next.

Until next time, happy smoking...


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