From fast food to fine dining, Joshua Smith has experienced it all.
Smith, co-owner, chef and butcher at Barred Owl Butcher & Table, has been working in the restaurant industry since he was 16, making it his 22nd year in the business (we’ll let you do the math). He got his start in New Orleans where he embraced food of all cultures – Cajun, Creole, Latin, Spanish, Argentinian and Italian. His cooking is deeply inspired by his fascination with travel and history, but he always tries to tie his dishes back to his roots in the Midwest. “Our goal is always to try to figure out how to bring it back home,” Smith says.
We caught up with Smith to find out more about his mix of Missouri and international inspirations, his favorite spots to eat in town and how he hopes to see Columbia grow.
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with and why? Chile and paprika peppers of all types — dried and fresh. Depending on the variety, they can add sweetness, spiciness or smokiness; some are fruity, some chocolatey, some raisin-y and so on. They are also my favorite things to grow in our garden at home.
Do you have a secret weapon spice/ingredient/technique? Anything I can do to get a little char or smokiness into a dish.
What are some of the most intriguing dishes you’ve made recently? Fried pork cheek with tamarind coleslaw, pawpaw barbecue sauce, yuca fries and habanero.
What inspires your cooking/menu? Missouri. All of our meats are raised in Missouri, and much of our produce is from local farmers during growing season. We do incorporate a wide array of ingredients and techniques from other regions and countries of course — my personal cooking style is heavily influenced by my travels abroad and the various cuisines I have been tasked with cooking over the years, but our goal is always to try to figure out how to bring it back home. Recognizing that our state is geographically and culturally at the confluence of the Midwest and the South, we are always asking ourselves, "How do we make this more Missouri?" Sometimes our cop-out answer is, "Well we're from Missouri and so is the meat, so we're good."
How do you approach research and development at your restaurant, and what inspires that process? Travel, history, conversation, passion, obsession, ADD and OCD.
What do you like to cook at home or on your day off? Latin American/Caribbean food.
What’s your favorite comfort food? Three-way tie between pepperoni pizza, fried chicken and biscuits and gravy.
What is your first memory with food that stands out to you? We used to eat at my grandma's house every Sunday afternoon, and those are the meals that first helped to shape who I have become as a cook.
What's your perfect day of eating in Columbia? I suppose I would start out with a potato knish from Uprise Bakery to kick off a day of carbohydrate and gluten-filled gluttony. Then I would head to Booches for two cheeseburgers with everything, a bag of Backer's red hot potato chips and a Logboat Lookout. Next, I would hit up ABC Chinese and get the Husband-and-Wife's Delight and an order of dandan noodles. Then assuming Pizza Tree was set up with the wood-fired oven at Logboat, I would pop in over there and grab a pizza and a Bobber Lager. My next stop would be 44 Stone Public House for some pub-cheese fritters and strong malty ale, followed by a trip to Flyover for the fried cauliflower and a Silver Fox cocktail. Finally, I'd end up at Barred Owl where I would get a Shipwrecked cocktail, followed by the beef-blood bowtie pasta with oxtail ragu and a glass of Priorat (a Spanish red wine), and I'd finish with an amaro in lieu of a dessert.
How has the local food scene in Columbia evolved over the past year? I think the pop up thing has been a good new addition to the scene: Amanda Elliot and Ben Hamrah's Sunday Supper series, Shelly LaFata's Sidebar and Fujiko Izakaya, which is the ramen/Japanese pub food project I've personally had a lot of fun with in partnering with my friends Frances Fujiko Harvey and Tim Eisenhauer (who tend bar and run the bread/pasta program respectively at Barred Owl).
Who are Columbia chefs you admire at the moment? There are so many, but I think Ben Hamrah at Peachtree Catering and Amanda Elliot at Rustic Supper are really helping to push things forward in a really positive way.
What concepts or styles of cooking do you hope to see added or expanded in Columbia? Regional Italian, Filipino, Ethiopian, Persian/Middle Eastern. I could go on all day. I think there a lot of holes to be filled — pretty much everything except for the sports bar, the chain restaurant or the cheap pizza place. We have enough of those.
If you could tell home cooks one thing, what would it be? Taste, season and salt as you go (not just at the end). And a splash of acid, be it citrus juice or vinegar, can make all the difference between good and great.
What are your future plans? I think I'm going to keep that a secret for the time being.
Barred Owl Butcher & Table, 47 E. Broadway, Columbia, Missouri, 573.442.9323, barredowlbutcher.com