Paul Brandt is a real hero in these parts — not only is the Alberta born-and-raised country singer a much-beloved musician, but he’s also known for his philanthropy and charity work, as well as just being a genuinely good guy. Music is, of course, Paul’s main gig, but his other true love is food, particularly Southern-style barbeque. With a few weeks of summery weather left, there’s still time to set your sights on taking on the art of barbeque, so I caught up with Paul to ask him a little bit about his love of authentic smoked meat.
So, I’ve been told that in addition to your musical career, you have a real passion for food!
At this point I’d have to call it a love/hate relationship that my wife has with me. She loves that I cook, but she hates how dirty I make the kitchen when I’m done. It’s a disaster. But I love cooking and I find it’s this thing for me where it’s total relaxation. Whether it’s coming up with new stuff in the kitchen or being out on the grill, I’m all about cooking. I love fishing, being out on the stream and fly fishing, and cooking — those are the two things that keep it real for me and relax me big time.
Have you always cooked?
Yeah, food was always a really important part of our lives growing up for sure. My parents loved having people over and loved cooking. My mom would always cook way too much, it was kind of her trademark, so there was always tons of leftovers or we’d invite lots of people over to take advantage of it. They really instilled that love of food in me When I got my record deal and started touring internationally, a lot of meetings were held at different restaurants and you start to get a feel for what’s good and what’s not and for me the next natural progression was “Well, how can I do that and how can I do that better?”
How do you approach food when you’re on the road?
We’re fortunate enough to have good catering when we’re on the road, but it always kind of feels like there are a few high moments but the rest of it is “Man, I can’t wait to get home” on the food side of things. We’re well taken care of though and there are a few highlights across the country that we always try to hit. If we’re in Vancouver I’m all about sushi. On the East Coast, there’s this place called the Fiver Fishermen that I love to go to, they do an amazing job with seafood. For me, even being in Winnipeg is a huge treat because I get to dive into that Ukrainian cuisine and those are some of my roots. My last name before I got into the music business is Belobersycky.
Speaking of roots, I think around these parts people are really trying to figure out what Alberta cuisine is. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Yeah, that whole farm to table movement is a big thing right now for sure. It’s a challenge that is probably felt right across the country. If you’re on the coast you can defer to seafood, but everywhere else in Canada it’s such a mixed bag. Because we’re a cultural mosaic we try to take every bit of what we’ve brought in and try to infuse it into what we think our region is all about from a food standpoint. I think that that’s exciting because it keeps it varied and there’s a ton of different infusions from different cultures. I guess in Alberta we can lean on beef, which is a big part of it. One of my big passions is barbeque.
When I went down to Nashville to sign my record deal in 1996 I was just surrounded by the Southern culture and quickly fell in love with barbeque and started to learn the differences between Memphis style and barbeque in Texas or North Carolina. When we moved back to Alberta a little over 12 years ago because I could bring back this thing and make it part of my life here. I love smoking beef and pork and having big groups of people over to enjoy it.
And people love that stuff up here!
Yeah, the root of it are pure. And for the most part, these are pretty cheap cuts of meat and one of the reasons that it became popular down South is because of the origins in slave culture and it was the kind of meat that people could afford. Eventually that infused itself into the Southern culture and became something that politicians would take advantage of because it was cheap and drew a crowd. So they’d serve pulled pork and beef brisket on the really cheap white buns with a little bit of coleslaw on top. With Alberta and our roots of community it doesn’t surprise me that we have that same culture of getting people together for beef on a bun.
Do you have any tips for barbeque?
I haven’t done any pulled pork or brisket this year yet, but it’s a must for me every summer. It’s a busy summer because we’re getting ready for the tour, which I’m really excited about, but I’m trying to squeeze out every little bit of summer that I can knowing that we’re going to be out on the road for that month. I was out in Ottawa doing some radio promotion and while I was there had this great Twitter conversation with this gal named Danielle Dimovski and she’s known as DivaQ and she’s one of Canada’s highest ranked barbequers. So we’d been going back and forth about how I was going to get the most out of my summer, so those are on my list of what I’m going to do next.
What do you like to serve on the side?
For me, it’s not a good barbeque sandwich without the coleslaw. You can either go with a creamy coleslaw or a vinegar base and I like either, but I think it’s more on the traditional side to go with the vinegar based and I like to put it right on the sandwich with some pickles as well. Sometimes we’ll do corn and I’ll just cook it right on my gas grill. But keep it pretty simple. And great barbeque sauces. There’s so many to choose from — I like it to be a little more thin or on the watery side so it really soaks into the meat. I’ll experiment with making my own or experiment with some great sauces from the store. Or I’ll buy a commercially available one and add something to it, like a little bit of rum or some pineapple juice or spice it up with some Tabasco or habanero.
I think barbeque is the official food of a lot of different genres. Like you said, it’s about bringing people together, which is what music often does too.
I think there’s a connection on the barbeque side with country music and the blues and that whole area down south. There’s a grittiness and hard work and a soul that goes into cooking this food and all of those things are expressed in those styles of music as well. There’s something about food and community and music that all seamlessly weave together.
What is your favourite kind of pie?
I love blueberry pie, it’s one of my all-time favourites, and I will defer to a Saskatoon berry pie being in Alberta. But the one I always try to get my wife to make because I’m not a baker at all, is she does this whisky maple pecan pie and it is just over the top. Your basic pecan pie on steroids, basically.
Paul uses a lot of DivaQ’s recipes and he also sent me a video of his barbeque mentor at work. I’ll share it here, since with barbeque, so much of it is about technique rather than mere recipe. Try it out — who knows, if you’re anything like Paul, once the barbeque bug bites you, there may be no coming back.
As Paul mentioned, he’s hitting the road this fall with fellow country star Dean Brody. Be sure to check them out as they make their way across Canada throughout September and October.