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© Michael Diskin
Chef Tiffani Faison.
I spent the weekend stuffing myself with some of America’s best barbecue at the Big Apple BBQ Block Party in NYC. The takeaway: People take their ’cue very seriously. That’s why Tiffani Faison, the season one Top Chef contestant and chef of the recently closed Rocca, is doing her homework before she opens her barbecue spot named Sweet Cheeks near Boston’s Fenway Park later this summer. “Barbecue is one of those democratic American foods that everyone gets. It’s a food my family gathered around to eat, and I wanted a place like that in Boston to take family and friends on a Sunday afternoon. It’s missing from the restaurant scene.” Faison, a self-described Army brat, grew up bouncing from Oklahoma to South Carolina to Texas. In a few weeks, she will travel to Texas’s barbecue capital, Lockhart, to do some due-diligence eating. But she won’t be adopting one particular style. “I want it to be organic. I think there’s this barbecue-fusion world that people are afraid of. Each style of barbecue has its hardcore fans, but I think I can make it uniquely New England—though I’m not sure what exactly that is going to be yet.” One thing is certain: It won’t be down-and-dirty barbecue. “I want this to be chef-driven, without being annoyingly cheffy,” explains Faison. She says she’s been brainstorming menu items like house-made hush puppies and “white trash fruit salad,” which she says is inspired by ambrosia: “It’s a little kitschy, but reminiscent of what I ate as a kid.” There will also be a beer garden, communal picnic tables and a porch swing outside. As for the name, “It’s just what we used to tease the line cooks with when they were lagging at Rocca,” she says. “We’d yell, ‘Let’s pick it up, sweet cheeks.’”