Barbecue sauce runs thick in the blood of Texans, but what about a nice tamarind glaze?
When some of the hottest chefs in the Southwest gathered here earlier this month, burgers and hot dogs were banished from the grill as they tried their hand at bringing a measure of innovation to a cuisine long regarded as a measure of Texas culture.
Eight masters of the kitchen were invited to fire up their grills at a charity barbecue bash for about 400 guests, who shelled out $150 each. The event was hosted by Dean Fearing, a Dallas chef who has earned a reputation for innovative Southwestern cuisine.
This was not the typical Texas barbecue of beef brisket, smoked sausages, and baby back pork ribs doused in a thick tomato-based sauce and dished out to guests wearing bluejeans and boots.
Instead, the gourmet grills featured black truffle butter and innovative uses of wasabi, the Japanese root that tastes like horseradish. The food was served to guests whose fancy foreign sports cars would fit nicely into the bed of a Texas-sized pickup truck.
"Barbecue is a religion in Texas," says Tim Keating, the executive chef at Houston's Four Seasons Hotel. "But there is so much fun stuff out there to toss on the grill that people should think about something new for their barbecues."
Mr. Keating's offering for the event was satay grilled shrimp and scallop skewers served over a salad of Asian greens tossed in a dressing seasoned with the Japanese citrus yuzu.
Keating says he wanted to bring an Asian theme to the grill by combining seasonings such as lemon grass and fresh turmeric with molasses when he cooked his skewered seafood.
It is time, he adds, for the weekend griller to venture into new sections of the supermarket and look for different ingredients to take home, maybe a mean cut of mahi-mahi.
"There is so much great stuff out there that tastes great on the grill," Keating says.
There was a consensus among the chefs that the key to a good barbecue is to work with exceptional ingredients and try to keep the cooking as simple as possible. But what's simple for a professional chef may not be exactly easy for a weekend warrior wheeling out the backyard grill.
Jeff Moschetti, the executive chef at the ritzy Beau Nash restaurant in Dallas' Hotel Crescent Court, wanted to have a simple barbecue.
And he did. He cooked up barbecued chicken, corn, rice, and coleslaw but his fare tasted nothing like what would be served at a typical Texas tailgate party.
His barbecued chicken came with a tamarind glaze seasoned with a mix of ingredients that included his own homemade ketchup.
The white organic corn was grilled with black truffle butter, the coleslaw seasoned with fresh pineapple, and the rice came with pigeon peas and smoked pork.
And just for fun, Mr. Moschetti decided to grill some caramelized plantains.
"It is not much different for me cooking on the grill than it is in the kitchen," he says.
"I enjoy using different kinds of wood and would recommend trying to grill some salmon over cherrywood."
But if you'd rather grill chicken than salmon, Moschetti shares a tip: "Cook the chicken first and put the sauce on last. The sugar in the sauce burns quickly and will leave the bird a black mess if put on too soon."
For Houston caterer Joe Abuso, the barbecue gave him a chance to have fun with fusion.
"Wasabi guacamole. Wasabi guacamole. I just love saying that," Mr. Abuso joked as he sprinkled salt on his dish of grilled yellowfin tuna nachos with wasabi guacamole on crispy wantons.
"There is a different attitude toward eating food that is cooked outside," he added.
Among the other dishes on the menu for the evening were red chili pork in banana leaves, corn bread with jicama, and an old Texas favorite, pork ribs but served Polynesian-style in a ginger and tangerine glaze.
"Everyone is at the height of showing off," says Mr. Fearing, the chef who organized the event to benefit a local children's hospital.
Bush Bowden, a Texan attending Fearing's barbecue, gave the gourmet offerings a hearty seal of approval.
But he cautions that the fancy grub should not be confused with the real deal. "We will allow this kind of food once a year," says Mr. Bowden. "But this is not true Texas barbecue."