So it is with great interest that my friend Finney, an alumnus of St. Helena California’s Meadowood, views the colossal pork chop that has just been wrestled off the Bouldin Creek smoker of John Mueller.
As a chef he’s perplexed. As an eater he has the look of a grizzly bear about to maul somebody if they get between him and the chop. He takes a bite and squints off towards Kerrville.
This is when the subject of black pepper comes up
“I know I’m back in Texas”
“Yeah? How’s that?”
“Out at Meadowood [the restaurant that famously earned a 3rd Michelin star] black pepper is not even allowed on the hotline”
“Uh uh” I express disbelief that this crucial seasoning is forbidden.
“We call it the forbidden spice, it’s flavor profile is too strong to go into many of our dishes”
“Well, you ought to be in hog heaven cause John Mueller probably buys his peppercorns in 50lb bags”
This California chef has recently come out of the kitchen of Daniel Patterson’s Plum in Oakland. He waxes philosophic about how Mueller’s food reminds him of the Porchetta from that kitchen.
“If Mueller followed the true procedures of porchetta this could be mind blowingly good.”
I press on.
“It’s the kind of food that could get a bib gourmand”
I rear back and take in the scene. Mueller is over near the food trailer arguing with a customer. The work crew is inside the kitchen hustling out smoked meat to a big line of hungry patrons. A band of hobos are off to one side sitting on a rock wall and playing string music.
“Probably makes you glad to be back in Austin?”
“You can’t imagine”
We move on to the brisket. It’s luscious. The girl on meat slicing duty has really, really improved. It’s an art, but if you’re a quick study, as she apparently is, you can pick it up after rolling through a couple tons of brisket, turkey and pork loin.
“What do you think of this brisket?”
“I’m a Texas boy [our 3 star chef is native to the great state] and this is good but honestly, that chop is truly something special”
We were warned off the hot guts when we ordered them cause it was so late in the day but as Mueller is the only pit boss in Austin with the skill to produce his own, in house, sausage-we order them anyway.
They’re the “worry link” style and I explain this to the visitor. Certain old timers like their hot guts to be dried out, worried over, if you will. The pit boss sets a few links to the back corner of the pit and as the day goes by he worries them with his fork or tongs. As the shift goes on the meat dries out and takes on a cured characteristic that many old-school Texas barbecue eaters love.
“Wow, thanks for the history lesson”
He chews thoughtfully.
“When I was cooking in Paris there was a place in our neighborhood that had sausage like this. We’d get a couple links of it and a hunk of bread and sit on the steps of a church and have a pic nic.”
The name Mueller sounds German to me but what if it turns out John Mueller is a Frenchman? I can see him singing a jaunty French sea shanty while he’s loading the smoker at 1 in the morning, maybe letting out with an “ooh la la” every once in a while when a particularly nice looking brisket comes off.
Neither one of us are sauce eaters but I insist he try some just to get some feedback.
“That’s nice, honestly, the meat’s so good there’s no point in sauce. Out in West Texas the sauce is important at places like Tom and Bingo’s cause the meat is just ok. You actually need the moisture”
My sentiments exactly. Sure when I’m back in Alabama at Archibald’s in Northport, I’m always going to get a gallon of the sauce for my cupboard but out in these parts the sauce culture is so new that nobody’s really figured out a recipe that makes me want to guzzle the stuff.
As we roll back north towards French Place I inquire as to what sort of price tag a chop like that would have on it at Plum, Cyrus or Meadowood.
“It’d be about sixty bucks”
“Would it be as good”
“Yeah, but that’s just it. It would be as good, not better, and you can bet they’d use a circulator on that meat for a few hours before it even came near a grill”
“John Mueller ain’t got a sous vide”
“Naw, I don’t reckon he does”