For all the flack we give America – when it comes to racism, sexism, classism, colourism and all the other isms that have led generations of mass oppression – dreams sometimes come true. In this country, a cocktail of hard work, innovation and patience can help a person achieve their goals and experience social mobility.
Take Dinzy, a young guy from my neighborhood who was between jobs and until his last $ 60. Confused and unsure of what to do, he ate his favorite comfort food: Doritos dipped in a special sauce that he mixed from random ingredients in his kitchen.
After Dinzy’s friends stopped to offer him encouragement, they started to eat potato chips with him. Suddenly every last one was gone. They bought more crisps, begging him to make some more of that special sauce. Before he knew it, Dinzy was preparing orders for them to take home.
Back the next day, Dinzy’s friends encouraged him to sell his snacks on Instagram. Just like that, a kid with $ 60 to his name went on to start a local business that grossed him six figures in his very first year.
Similar to Dinzy, James Beard Award winner Chef Rodney Scott knows what it feels like to think you don’t have much of a future. On her high school graduation party, a classmate asked her, “Why are you partying? You’re just going to take to the streets to make pigs.”
Scott was embarrassed at first, but not defeated. He left to smoke pigs on graduation night – it was his family business. After his father fell ill, Scott took his place in the business, expanded the business, and eventually became a household name in the culinary industry, winning accolades and awards for smoldering pigs. Now Scott comes out “Rodney Scott’s Barbecue World», The first cookbook of a Black Pitmaster.
In a recent episode of “Salon Talks,” Scott explained how his new book celebrates his family’s culinary heritage, life history and traditions, and mastery of his craft. You can watch the full episode with Scott here, or read a Q&A from our conversation below.
The following conversation has been edited slightly for length and clarity.
Reading about you and watching the Netflix documentary, I was going back to when you were talking about your high school graduation night. You were celebrating, happy, and someone said, “Why are you celebrating? You’re just going to take to the streets to make pigs.” And at the time, you didn’t know it would lead to this, right?
I had no idea it would lead to this, and this girl comes to mind all the time. I don’t even know if she remembers telling me that, but all I can say to myself every day was, “I’m going to show her. I’m going to show her what I’m going to do.”
And that sort of has to do with the idea that you are a hard worker and take pride in what you do. A lot of people have things in front of them. They have things in front of them, and they don’t see the value. So what would you say to these people?
I would say to people who have things like that in front of them, “Be careful”. Pay attention to what you are doing. You could do something very valuable. You could do something very beneficial for other people. Take notes, learn it, try to find joy in everything related to it or put joy in it. With me, I put music into what I was doing, and I found ways to read magazines and dream. If I didn’t have a magazine or music, I would take a map and just take a trip mentally. Find the fun in it. You never know what you are sitting on. You never know what you’re clinging to. So find joy and pay attention to it. If you don’t like it, pick the best parts and go from there.
What prompted you to release this book?
What prompted me to bring out this book was that people first asked me, “Do you have a book coming? Do you have a book coming?” And I’ve never thought of writing a book since until fifth grade when I gave it a good try. And I was like, “I don’t write any books. I don’t have enough information to put in a book.” And it came to me in 2018. They said again, “Hey, do you want to write a book?” And I said, “You know what, why not? I’ll try to tell my story. And if we don’t have enough for a book, at least I tried.” It was my thought, and we went ahead and shot for it.
As a chef, is it difficult to pull out your recipes or do you know that no one can make them like you?
For me, it wasn’t hard to get the recipes out just because you can present them to people, but they still have to put in the effort to do so. And often people are looking for that finished product. They don’t want to go through the process all the time. So they end up saying, “Hey, I’m just going to get him because it’s already done.” So it’s like you share the love. So putting the recipe there wasn’t too difficult for me. It was quite pleasant.
While you were writing the book and collaborating to put this project together, was that one of the questions that arose? Will people be able to follow this? Will people be able to do it? Or will it just be a cute book to sit on their coffee table?
Dude, at first when we were doing that, I was like, “We need to post it just so that person can follow this recipe easily.” And the mindset I had when we were doing this was – and imagine it – this was the guy in the backyard that has people coming in later. He’s a little confused on what he wants to do. He doesn’t want to call anyone for help, but he wants to impress those guests later. So he runs, grabs this book, opens it on a page, looks at it and says, “I can do this real fast. I got it. I’m about to do it now.” It was the idea to make it simple for this guy to go and grab it, open it – or a girl – grab it, open it and do his thing without having to go through. through a lot of procedures.
You talk about how barbecue is a science. Kind of like great jump shooters talk about the mechanics of a perfect jump shot, right?
Yes, I was definitely born there. I have seen so many people do it in different ways. And there are so many styles that people have for whole pigs and barbecuing – period. And I would always take what I see, compare it to what I’m doing, and try to fine-tune my little ideas, thoughts, or procedures on what I’m doing. And I would always take a little bit of what I saw and learned and tried to apply it to my next event, my barbecue or whatever I do. Visiting different places and getting different marks: “My barbecue doesn’t taste like this. Should I do it this way? I never thought of this procedure. Should I change for this?” So I kind of took it all and applied it.
Are you the best in your family?
I would definitely say that I am the best of my family. The great Mike Mills taught me that you are the best. OKAY? If someone asks you if you are the best, you say, “Yes, I am”. And if someone compares you to someone else, you say I’m different. That way you always say you’re awesome and still respect the style of the next person.
As we fight to emerge from the pandemic and slowly see a lot of restaurants suffer and struggle to reopen, can you talk about what this moment has meant for so many restaurateurs. Do you have any advice for those who are still trying to fight?
For so many restaurateurs, this moment is an opportunity for them to get back on their feet. So that they can rest quietly, because now your chance is again to survive, to strengthen the reputation of your restaurant, to rebuild your career. Always be prepared for situations like this, if they ever come back. And the advice I give to everyone is what I always say is that every day is a good day – period. I say this all the time because things are going to get better. Here is the opportunity to improve. Hang in there, don’t give up. We will come back to where we were. Gastronomy will be back with birthdays and business meetings. The barbecue will go back to normal, where people gather, eat, have fun and feel safe at the same time. So I say, hang on. It’s gonna be awesome again.
Do you think Congress has done enough to protect restaurants?
Man. These are just three things that I try to stay away from: politics, people’s religion, and people’s personal affairs. I keep my head down and hope they do the right thing. Many of my fellow restaurateurs have said they want a lot of help and need a lot of help. And I mean, I understand. Personally, I have always wanted to keep my head down and continue. I’m going to do my best from where I am and try not to rely too much on everyone.
One thing I wanted to ask you was if there was anything you would say to consumers like me – people who like to eat – about the different ways we can help support our favorite restaurants during this time?
One of the things we can do to help our favorite restaurants during these tough times is to visit them at least once a week, if you can. Tell your friends to visit them at least once a week. Kind of creating a spin to stop. If it’s pork today, beef tomorrow, chicken on the third day, visit them. You don’t have to buy an expensive meal every time you go, but support them. Let’s lift each other up in the restaurant business and keep us all afloat. I do it. And just by showing up every now and then, you just have to spend some money with them. It could be that $ 20 bill that puts them over the edge for this week. And tip your employees. Tip them if you can. So rotate it. If you can’t afford to go all the time, go once or twice a week. Encourage them.
And what’s next for Rodney Scott?
Dude, next to Rodney Scott, we’re gonna open in Atlanta. Hopefully this summer – that’s the plan. We will be opening two more in Alabama – in Homewood and in Trussville, Alabama. And from there we’ll see. Who knows.