Chef Spotlight: Alex T. (projetbbq)
French-Canadian BBQ artist Alex Turcotte is obsessed with pushing his creations to the limit. Experimenting with different flavors and incorporating other influences keeps his dishes constantly evolving. He sat down with Dalstrong to talk about his kids, why approach is more important than technique, and how understanding fire is everything.
You call yourself a BBQ artist. What do you mean by that?
To me the way I do BBQ is like painting. My canvas is fire, and I play with it. What I’m obsessed with is understanding fire first, then creating new recipes, things that have never been done. I’m always playing with my BBQ, seeing how many recipes I can make. Now I’m making my own videos, photos, podcasts, and a website. My heart is BBQ and fire.
You describe yourself on social media as a proud dad. Tell me about your kids. Do they love your BBQ creations?
I have two kids, they’re seven and ten. I just want to watch them grow up and be with them. I’ve always loved BBQ, but it’s also my “dad hobby.” It’s a nice way to spend time with my kids, spend time in the backyard, play with them. Instead of playing golf, I prefer to spend time with my kids outside. It’s a way to merge my passion for BBQ and my kids at the same time.
What’s your best advice for people starting out with BBQ?
I’m chatting every day with people who are just getting started with BBQ, and most of them want to do charcoal. When they reach out the first thing I say is you have to understand your fire. If you understand that, you don’t cook with time, you cook with temperature. That’s the best tip for people starting to have that as a foundation. If you don’t get fire, you’re screwed.
What’s your favorite new creation or “go to” recipe?
The thing that I prefer to cook is whatever comes off the water, all seafood. Octopus is my favorite. If I want to put someone outside of their comfort zone, I’m going to cook octopus. I drop a few recipes on my website, but to me it’s the base like spaghetti sauce. If I’m feeling citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit), I’ll play with it. I always try to keep the main element, not to lose the flavor, just want to boost it. Keep the essentials of what I’m cooking, but bring different flavors to it. It’s different every time, but the base stays the same.
When you’re not cooking, where are you?
It’s related, but I started a podcast at the beginning of the quarantine when everything was shut down. There’s no way I could do nothing, so I gave it a shot. I talk to people all over, especially French BBQers. I also like playing hockey, being French Canadian it’s a way of life! I strive for a balance between sports, family, and work. When I play sports, I pull the plug and only focus on that. It’s an escape.
Is there a spice you secretly hate?
Not really. I don’t like barbecue sauce that tastes too syrupy, too thick. I need to find a level of complexity and a different flavor profile in a good sauce. But all spices are great when they’re balanced and used properly. It’s the thinking behind the use. Some that I use less, but nothing that I hate.
Is there a kitchen tool you can’t live without?
I really fell in love with the Omega series, if I had to choose one. It’s so big, allows me to slice and scoop veggies, very versatile. I really like Phantom and Shogun as well. For the look, price, and functionality you can’t get a better knife. People ask me every day if I want to work with them, and I say ‘no’. I have to fall in love with the product first, then want to partner with you. That’s what happened with Dalstrong. Not the other way around. I also love my Petromax dutch oven and brasero and my meat thermometers.
Who are your cooking heroes?
It’s not really about cooking, it’s the approach. I love Aaron Franklin. I watch his videos, and admire the way he understands fire. It reflects what I do. Is it the best brisket in the world? I don’t know. It’s about the approach. But I take a little of everyone. I’m not a classic BBQer, I like to incorporate other influences, like French and Asian. So I draw from a lot of people.
If you could cook a meal for one person, who would it be?
I would say not a person, but a moment. Every year I do a fishing trip with my father. Probably one of the only moments when I can disconnect from everything and just appreciate the time together. As we both get older, I cherish that time with him and taking the time to cook something awesome and spend that moment with him is pretty unique.
What’s the one dish that everyone seems to screw up?
Brisket, maybe. You don’t know what good brisket is until you eat it. A lot of people are scared because it’s so big. But you don’t turn an amazing brisket on your first attempt. First, if you don’t focus on temperature, you’re screwed. It’s an expensive piece of meat, so they may cut quality. If you get a lower grade, it’s not going to help you at the end. The rest time is important. If you cook for twelve hours, you’re excited to try it. But don’t be in too much of a hurry, you have to let it rest. People go too fast, get too anxious. They fail by giving up on the process, and not paying attention to detail at the end.
What is the mark of a great chef?
Passion, technique, and feeling. I like to focus on the way I’m using temperature, but also I really like to keep my feelings for the recipient, who will be eating my food. You don’t always have to go by the book, have some heart. Sometimes you miss an opportunity or a new thing you can discover if you don’t.
What would be your last meal?
Probably a big plate! It’s gonna have beef, for sure. Short ribs, grilled fish, and a glass of gin. Here in Montreal, something is happening with gin. So many amazing gin businesses are being launched. Exploding right now. I’ve seen twenty or twenty-five new brands come out recently. I always try to buy local. Even with what I'm doing with my social and communications, it’s to help local businesses to grow. I always use local products in my recipes, especially with covid. Small businesses are hurting. It’s changed my way of buying things and consuming products.
To follow Alex Turcotte’s food journey, follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and his website www.projetbbq.com