Paris, France is an unlikely place to find authentic Texas BBQ. But thanks to Thomas Abramowicz, it’s there, and it’s very good.
Feeding From the Belly of The Beast
In our continuing series, The Texas Embassies, we introduce you to outstanding restaurants throughout the world serving Texas-inspired fare.
Photos by Joann Pai.
The world is having a love affair with Texas barbecue. There’s a magic alchemy between fire, smoke, seasoning and meat, and it's a source of amusement to watch the rest of us finally catch on to what most Texans have known all along. I myself am an Australian who ended up moving to Austin not entirely indirectly due to a love of barbecue, so it comes as little surprise that even the refined palates of continental Europe are catching the bug.
Enter Thomas Abramowicz – the Frenchman who walked away from a cosmopolitan career working in New York in the luxury spirits industry to preach the virtues of Texas barbecue on the streets of Paris.
His barbecue “joint” The Beast (so named for the hulking pit he imported from Texas) has been in operation since September 2014, serving up brisket, beef rib, pulled pork and baby back ribs, and classically Texan sides of coleslaw and BBQ beans (alongside the decidedly less traditional side of steamed greens).
Thomas and I spoke earlier this week (by phone; a trip to Paris was not in the cards for me, unfortunately). Here is what he shared:
How does a Parisian come to fall in love with Texan barbecue?
It was about seven years ago, I was living and working in New York for about four years and my roommate was from the Hill Country, in Blanco. So we used to travel back and forth to Texas, and that’s really how I discovered Texas culture and Texas barbecue. Ultimately I decided to quit pushing cases of Vodka and Champagne and open a real Texas BBQ joint in Paris.
I’ve heard that your journey to start your own joint has a rather serendipitous beginning?
I was attending Big Apple BBQ fest in Madison Square park , and had just bought the book written by [Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor] Daniel Vaughn called ‘Prophets of Smoked Meat’ about a week before the event. I had Googled him before and seen pictures of his face on the Internet before. I was having lunch with a friend of mine at Hill Country Barbecue in NYC, and guess who I ran into waiting in line for the bathroom?! I went up and introduced myself and explained my plan to open a BBQ joint in Paris, and that I needed help to get trained properly. He said he was happy to help, all in this nice conversation waiting in line in front of the bathroom! The next day at the event he introduced me to Wayne Mueller of Louie Mueller Barbecue. Wayne was kind enough to welcome me to his restaurant for training, and that was really the beginning of the project.
I’d imagine smokers aren’t exactly readily available in Paris. What kinds are you using and how did you acquire it?
I had done my homework before the trip and found out that some of the best commercial smokers available on the market are by J&R Manufacturing in Mesquite, Texas. I spent a week at their factory learning how to operate their bigass smoker called Oyler, which is a wood-operated rotisserie oven. It was custom made and a complete pain to import. The voltage was different and so they had to change all the electronics inside the smoker. Plus it took six months to get it – three months production and then three months shipping.
But it was very important to you to make sure you had a pit from Texas?
It was a must have. I’d always worked with luxury products, Dom Perignon, Hennessy, Belvedere, nice products. So if I was going to do this project, I wanted to do it right, and I needed the right equipment to do it. There was no compromise on the equipment, the cooking, or the meats.
What was it about your first taste of Texas barbecue that was enough to set you on a new career path?
It was a shock to me. It was a complete experience. First, the visual. The huge picnics tables and the sharing. The sharing of food really caught my attention, it’s not something we usually do in France. You know, you don’t sit next to someone you don’t know in a restaurant, there’s always personal space between the tables, but I love the idea of sharing and discussing with people you don’t know, and the food being the centre of that. It’s also the smell of spice, wood and meat mixed together. And finally of course the texture of the meat that’s melt in your mouth, and the low’n’slow flavor.
Are there any adjustments you’ve had to made for the French palate or is it more important for you to preserve authenticity?
I will not compromise on the cooking or the meats. Brisket is a cut that is not available in France, because we butcher different to how the Americans do. The cattle breeds we have in France are also too lean, so I had to import my brisket from the US. I’m very proud to say I’m using the same briskets as Wayne Mueller and Aaron Franklin, that’s Black Angus from Creekstone. I smoke with Oak as they do in Texas. I get beautiful French Oak and was trained to use Oak.
In terms of the palate, the French is a little different to the American. My ‘slaw is much lighter than what they have in Texas, we put very little mayonnaise, and it’s less sweet. I also had to lighten up on my rubs. Easier to digest for French people! The portions are also adapted. I couldn’t offer it by the pound, because people weren’t sure how much to order, so I offer set portions.
Do many American tourists seek you out?
Yeah, it’s absolutely phenomenal. Basically, 30% of my customers are American, both expats and tourists. The best compliment I can hear is from the expats, which is “it feels like a home away from home”.
What’s your favorite part or detail of Texas, aside from barbecue?
Hospitaltiy. I didn’t know much about Texas when I first stepped foot there. I knew what the media brought to my attention, so Dallas the TV show, and the Cowboys and the NRA, but that’s pretty much it. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived there and I was amazed, especially when I did my training, by the kindness and hospitality of people, the passion they put in to keep this tradition and heritage going. Folks who gave me a bed in their house just to train me properly…that will stay with me forever.
Given your previous career around luxury spirits, which drink do you think pairs best with barbecue?
Before I went to Texas I spent 10 days in Kentucky touring the distilleries and fell in love with Bourbon. I think bourbon and barbecue work pretty well together, I feel like it’s the same texture, very mellow and melting in your mouth, almost caramelised on the outside, and very rich. Bourbon was hard to find in France, but I decided to open a Bourbon bar to go along with the barbecue, and I now have the biggest selection in France. We have approximately 80 bottles of Bourbon and American whiskey, which also attracts a lot of Americans.
Will we be seeing you back in Texas anytime soon to refresh your palate?
[laughs] I just got back to be honest! I was there about two months ago for the Houston BBQ Fest and some extra training at Louie Muellers. I’m planning on coming back every year – you’ll definitely see me in Texas again.
The Beast is at 27 Rue Meslay in Paris and operates from Tuesday thru Saturday with lunch from 12-2.30 and dinner from 7-11 unless sold out prior.