Byres' book, Smoke: New Firewood Cooking, released last year, was nominated for a book award in the category of general cooking.
Despite the category name, Smoke is certainly no general nor ordinary cookbook, but rather a naturalist's field guide to living off the land while feasting like a king. Among the recipes are canning tips, garden plots and details on how to properly build a fire, cure meat, make sausage and host a pig roast.
Byres has always approached his projects with an all-in effort. Prior to opening his first spot, Smoke, he traversed the deep South searching for the soul of barbecue joints. Not just rubs, sauce and sides, but also the culture surrounding these spots. A similar chicken-heavy road trip happened prior to Chicken Scratch, this time mapping a route across the Midwest.
"In a weird deep inside way," says Byres, "I want to keep going until I find the answers and it's not always just food."
Byres explains he's fascinated with the why: What makes one particular roadside spot, maybe even shack, using old-school American recipes iconic?
"They are a source of inspiration for me to start telling my own story. It's all nostalgic, true and purposeful. It's a lot like the restaurants: It comes alive, you polish it up, then turn it over the guests," Byres says.
When he started his book Smoke, it was a new journey. This one involved tuning out. In the introduction, Byres confesses he'd gotten burnt out on the restaurant scene and wanted to disconnect. He was looking for a new balance and was ready to rediscover why he became a chef in the first place.
A year after the book's release, he likens it to The Little Engine That Could.
"It's like a garage band releasing a hit record," Byres says. "I sold a lot of books out of the trunk of my car doing cooking demos and talks."
But the paperweight carries less meaning than the message, which is still lost on some.
"It was super hard to get people to understand the idea that it is not about barbecue, but about a lifestyle and having fun with friends and family," he says.
Byres is now working on his next book, inspired by the relationships and lessons forged through the conversations and connections Smoke initiated.
"Invitations from readers and a creative spirit are starting the new story, just as my need to unplug started the first. My next book will carry the same spirit. As my agent and friend said, it's like the children's book My Side of the Mountain, but for adults."
Party tip: If mountains get divided, find Byres' side. Follow the scent of smoke and meat.
The 2014 James Beard book winners will be announced on May 2.
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