Ronnie Evans and Philip Moseley don’t call themselves chefs. But when River Beats caught up with them after this year’s Voodoo Festival, they had plenty of praise for those at Blue Oak who do take on the title. The pair of Pit-masters talked with us about employee appreciation, the unique way they collaborate on food, and the slow-cooking ride that led from pop-ups to brick & mortar. Keep reading for our exclusive interview with the purveyors of Blue Oak BBQ.
So take us back, how did you meet, and how did the Blue Oak idea start?
Ronnie: “Phil and I met in 6th grade. I got kicked out of one school (laughs) and found myself at Phil’s school–”
Phil: “(yelling)–The Holy Name of Jesus, Uptown! (laughs)”
Ronnie: “I think that’s how they like to pronounce it. We always talked about one day doing this or that, a bar or something. Then, we went to different high schools, and colleges. But, we always stayed in touch. I started cooking barbecue in college to make money on the side. I got into it. Phil was working in New Orleans, I ended up moving to Colorado. Phil was working for a bean exporting/importing company. I said ‘why don’t we try the barbecue thing?’ ”
“He came up to Colorado, and we started learning. Ultimately we moved back home after about a year, bought a pit, and started cooking. We did some small events, popped up at people’s houses, and then we got a gig at Grits Uptown working late nights. We were there for about a year and it was terrible (laughs). It was a combo of not doing enough business and having those awful late-night hours. Phil and I didn’t have enough money to pay anybody so we were basically it.”
So when you bought the pit were you experimenting at home or was Grits the first go at it?
Ronnie: “Well, we had practiced with some recipes and we had a basis…
”From Grits, to Blue Oak we’re constantly tweaking our recipes. So we didn’t have training wheels, we just got our stuff out and started cooking.”
- Ronnie Evans, Chief BBQ Tech, Blue Oak
Speaking of recipes, are you both in charge of the menu and what comes out of the kitchen? Thinking about the nachos makes your mouth water. We need to know who’s responsible for those.
Ronnie: “The nachos have been a day one, and they come out of a collaborative effort. Phils is great with the sauces, and I am more sides and specials. It’s a combined effort since our culinary skills are pretty limited (laughs). If you see specials on the board, those are coming from the hands of our chefs. We chime in on different things but as grow, we’re not necessarily putting our hands on every brisket; we’re not scooping every side of mac. We put out all the little fires now instead of spending a bunch of time in the kitchen. It’s weird, but we’re not super upset about it.”
There is a pattern in Nola with pop-ups and food trucks moving onto larger businesses. Obviously that was the case with your success too. Can you tell the story of how you moved on from the back room of bars to having your own spot?
Phil: “Brick and mortar were always one of our end goals. We knew, in the beginning, we had to start small. We were living in our parent’s house when this thing started. Blue Oak will turn eight years old next summer. It’s like stepping stones. Like Ronnie said, ‘everywhere we go has been a test kitchen. Constantly trying to be creative and trying to work on our craft.’
We’d take visits all over Texas: Austin, Elgin, Lockhart. All these little towns with really old school barbecue places. We’d chat with all the pitmasters and owners, and that’s when we kicked into gear.
“Our first trip to Texas, primarily to Franklin, that’s when we kinda’ knew that we didn’t know anything about barbecue.”
- Phil Moseley, Blue Oak BBQ Keeper of the Flame
“Franklin was the epitome, the Mecca of barbecue. So at the time, what we had to shoot for to reach brick and mortar was clear. Then it became a thing of opportunity. We took chances as they came while still being smart, still saving money. The next step for Blue Oak was Chickie Wah-Wah.”
“We had a mutual friend with some connections over there. Their kitchen was open and we thought it might be a different clientele than the midnight to 5 am drunk crowd. So we jumped on it almost immediately, and took up for two and a half years over there.”
“Our story is a lot of things: hard work, but also a lot of luck. Being at the right place at the right time and allowing things to fall into place.”
Fatty Brisket Croissants on the Board!! Only 25 of ‘em so get over here pic.twitter.com/ymrhZ3CH79
— Blue Oak BBQ (@BlueOakBBQ) November 24, 2019
It seems like you also knew that you had to learn the skills. That research and development happened because you were out there making it happen.
Phil: “Yea it was kind of perfect. Thinking back on it, the way we went about doing it without actually thinking about it. At the time it’s tunnel vision. But when I reflect the path is clear. Like, ‘hey we spent a year here, figuring out some stuff. That’s where we worked on the nachos, or the mac & cheese, and appetizers.’ ”
“From Chickie we started working on the ribs and the meats. A lot of people were coming in for dinner. The sides always follow. We were in a good place right when we found Carrolton and Dumaine. We were really happy with our meats and our sides so it was perfect timing to move in. To quote Ronnie again, even to this day we’re evolving and getting better
Can you talk about your process with how you cook your meat? What stands out and makes you unique?
Phil: “We do our own thing. Techniques that we’ve picked up from our travels, our friends, and other barbecuers. We do events, like Charleston Wine & Food, where we’ll do barbecue circles. Or, we might cook a whole hog with a guy that comes in town from Houston, just to help with a Hogs for the Cause event. There’s this thing about barbecue that goes back to primal days; people gathering to eat meat cooked over a fire.”
“A lot of people in different styles of restaurants, they wouldn’t even talk to each other about recipes. In today’s barbecue industry, it’s an open book. There aren’t many errors in cooking. We love to tell people what we do, they love to tell us what they do, and before we know it we’ve come up with something new.”
Barbecue didn’t seem to a big thing in New Orleans, but it feels like it’s been kind of a revolution over the last ten years. Would you guys agree with that?
Phil & Ronnie: “Definitely.”
Phil: “Yea, for a long time we were like, there’s really little barbecue in New Orleans– we should go and do it. It was really just The Joint, and a few other mom & pop places off the beaten path. Voodoo was here, so that was the chain barbecue. There was Ms. Hyster’s and The Ugly Dog.
That was a really big opening for y’all because there was nothing like Blue Oak. Something savvier and more geared to the young crowd.
Phil: “Barbecue was an afterthought in New Orleans. I think The Joint helped paved the way, and we would like to say we took it another step further. We like to think Blue Oak is a place that people like to go to for the environment as well. We play good music. We’ve got a good location, and people really look for that. There is a ton of factors that go into being Blue Oak, and they’re all unique at making us, us.”
What’s next for the Blue Oak team?
Phil: “As I said, we don’t shy away from the opportunity. The challenge is being smart about it and taking the right path. I feel like we’re starting to get hungry for a new project. We know barbecue, so that would probably be the first choice. But we’ve also talked about a spinoff of that. Who knows? It depends on the location, and how it feels. Maybe we do something where the focus is on the bar a little bit more.”
“We’re developing a core group here, we have a lot of great people. We’re focusing a lot on the processes and systems of this restaurant. We’re always facing challenges, but we’re thinking about the right steps and hopefully, you’ll see something soon from us. We love the neighborhood, and we hope we can continue being good neighbors.”
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