The sharp, sweet aroma of smoldering hardwood greets visitors at the door of Smoke, chef Tim Byres’s flagship restaurant in West Dallas. It filters into the dining room from the massive, smoking pit out back. It twines its way from the wood-stoked grill that’s kept fired up for three meals a day, 364 days a year.
Those campfire scents of hickory, pecan and oak press some ancient button of well-being in the hominid brain. Which may help explain why Byres seems so alive and engaged here. Lean and intense, with piercing pale blue eyes, he has gone in four short years from a high-stakes job as executive chef at Stephan Pyles, Dallas’s most lauded restaurant, to a career as a Texas pit master. His calling is, as he puts it with wry economy, the manipulation of firewood, charcoal and ash.
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Last year, Byres was named Food & Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef, winning a nationwide competition. Soon after, he opened a second restaurant, Chicken Scratch, along with a bar, The Foundry, right down Fort Worth Avenue from Smoke. Chicken Scratch is a raffish compound where fried and pecan-wood-rotisseried chicken rule the menu and live bands play on a proscenium stage sculpted out of salvaged cargo pallets, like something out of Mad Max. He has just published Smoke: New Firewood Cooking, in which he demystifies things that people might think they can’t do for themselves, like building their own small smokehouse, or digging a pit to cook lamb barbacoa, or making an oyster roaster from barrel drums covered with chicken wire.