Working over a wood fire in Washington's summer heat is really hot stuff. But one of the coolest chefs in D.C. does just that: Richard Brooks, executive chef of Georgetown's old-timer, Old Glory Bar-B-Que. Even if he must mop his brow every few minutes, Brooks loves the smoke and the thrill of the job. After all, he's been in the same kitchen tending the fires for the past 19 years.
A native of Farmville, Va., Brooks got his earliest training in his family's kitchen. "It all started with my grandparents and my mom," he says. "They had pigs of their own, and they butchered, cleaned and smoked them. ... They were pig farmers. Around November, they cured and smoked country ham for Christmas presents. I did this as a kid."
But he got his foot in the professional door when he started working as a dishwasher at a local Olive Garden. On a day that two line cooks called in sick, Brooks was moved up the ladder to start cooking. He later moved on to other restaurants, including a local Black-eyed Pea and an Applebee's. The general manager of that Applebee's ended up moving to D.C. and working for Old Glory. He asked Brooks to come along, and the rest is history. "We have here an open pit with a hickory wood fire," he says. "I walked in, thought, 'This is heaven.' "
Not surprisingly, Brooks has gained a certain reputation for his barbecue, and he recalls that one gentleman comes in for lunch three to four times a week, just for the brisket sandwich. "He works in a local law firm," says Brooks, "and for 14 years, he orders the same thing. Sliced brisket and a side salad and sweet tea. He says the brisket is so good, nice and lean."
|If you go|
|Old Glory Bar-B-Que|
|» Where: 3139 M St. NW|
|» Info: 202-337-3406; oldglorybbq.com|
|» Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday|
When asked to describe his style of barbecue -- Memphis, Tenn., Texas, Kansas City, Mo., North Carolina? -- Brooks shrugs and calls it regular old Southern barbecue with a little twist. Probably a Brooks secret, though he did describe the succotash side dish as very creamy with heavy cream, butter and red and green peppers. But for those who are looking for barbecue styles, Brooks points out that at each table, the staff has set regional sauces for the patrons' use and convenience.
For locals who attend the annual barbecue competition, the National Capital Barbecue Battle, chances are you have spotted Brooks hovering over one of his meaty creations -- he has, in fact, won several second- and third-place awards for his work. And all that is not surprising, for as Brooks says, even after a 10-to-12-hour day, "You'd think that I would get tired. But I love what I do." That obviously shows in his smoky work.
What is your comfort food?
I'm just a chicken guy -- barbecued, grilled, pulled.
What's in your fridge?
A lot of salad, berries, apples, carrots, vegetables for fresh juices and chicken. So it is fresh juice and chicken.
What is your favorite restaurant?
Of course, the Old Glory or one of the other of the company's restaurants. I hardly go out to eat, so I eat here. Or I go home to my wife, and I cook.
Who has been the greatest influence on your cooking?
My mom and my grandma. I learned from them. They figured out, "This guy really wants to cook."
Do you have a signature recipe?
Yes, a barbecue sauce I make. That is what won me first place in the People's Choice last year.
Richard Brooks' beef brisket
Definitely a recipe for the devoted barbecue chef. Serves 4 to 6 or more.
5 pounds beef brisket
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon dry mustard
Set the meat onto a nonreactive pan. Combine all the rub ingredients, wrap it in foil and refrigerate for 24 hours. Bring to room temperature and smoke for 12 hours. Serve alone or with sides.