The Beast is not only the name of this trend-setting barbecue restaurant on a quiet “shoe block” in the northern section of the Marais in Paris. It’s the name pitmaster-owner Thomas Abramowicz has given the 4,000 pound, Texas-built wood-fired J&R rotisserie smoker the month-old barbecue pit is built around. “It took me six months to get it and was shipped by sea to Paris in one piece,” he recalls. “I had to take down the front door of my restaurant to get it in. It took me another week to put it at the rear of the restaurant.”
If it’s not obvious from the effort securing the equipment, or the fact that his restaurant is already packed with Parisian barbecue newbies — and a few American expats yearing for a taste of the homefront, who I was surrounded by during a November visit — Abramowicz is hardly a smokehouse dilettante.
A couple years back the former LVMH brand manager spent serious time in Texas, driving around and sampling the state’s famous beef barbecue — and along the way worked as a stagiaire at several of the most famous ones, including Louie Mueller BBQ and Franklin’s, as well as Mighty Quinn's in New York City. It’s still early days for the Beast — I’m spoiled by the excellent barbecue scene in New York City and found the brisket at Beast in need of more smoke, more depth, more “moist,” as they say in the brisket biz. That said, I’ve got a ton of respect for Abramowicz, who also serves a deep selection of American whiskeys, with a focus on bourbon.
Five years ago it was tough to find a decent hamburger in Paris, let alone tacos or wood-smoked barbecue. Now the city is in the midst of a bit of a craze, with all three getting serious attention from entrepreneurial-minded chefs. Abramowicz told us a bit of his story, including why an old American flag (with 48 stars) hangs in his restaurant.
Where did you first try American-style barbecue? What were you thinking when you first tried it?
I was introduced to American barbecue seven years ago and I have two main early memories. One was The Salt Lick in Texas. My roommate was from Blanco, Texas in the Hill Country and we used to spend Thanksgiving with his family every year. He brought me there and I was amazed. The other memory I have is from Fette Sau in Brooklyn. It's not as purist, but much remains [traditional]: the smell (amazing blend of spices, meat and smoke), the texture of the meats (tender, juicy and falling off the bone) and the general ambiance and vibe of the space. I just loved the fact that this style of cooking had the power to bring people together (huge community tables, people sharing platters, sauce etc.). It changed my life and my vision of food forever.
How many barbecue restaurants did you train at?
I hit so many joints during the training I can't even remember, maybe 15 or 20). Most memorable experiences are: 1. Louie Mueller BBQ, Taylor TX: I got trained by Wayne Mueller, 3rd generation pitmaster and his great team. Probably one of the most generous person I met along the way. 2. Franklin BBQ, Austin TX: more like an informal discussion than a proper training. Aaron [Franklin] just had a baby boy so I got introduced to Benji, the Managing Director. He gave me some amazing tricks and a great tour of the pits. One thing I learned there: work, work and work. 3. Pappa Charlie's BBQ, Houston TX: food truck owned by Wesley Jurena, who was kind enough to reach out to me — a story about my "quest" had been posted on Texas Monthly BBQ) — and offer to help. We cooked some brisket and pulled pork for a food market in Houston. 4. Mighty Quinn's, New York, NY: Hugh Mangum welcomed me with open arms. They are some of the most talented people I have seen in the BBQ business. And super nice above all.
What was the biggest challenge in opening in Paris?
The biggest challenge was to source the meats. No issue with birds or pork, but the beef was very challenging for two main reasons: 1. French cows are too lean. They are great for grilling, not so great for cooking low and slow. The level of fat marbeling was too small here. I needed to use Black Angus Beef, which you can hardly find here in France. 2. Meat cuts are different in France and in the US. Brisket does not exist here. Getting the smoker here was also a big challenge.
Talk about the American flag that hangs in your restaurant. Where did that come from?
The flag was given to me by Mr. Wayne Mueller after I completed the training. It belonged to his grandfather Louie who was the founder of the joint (it only has 48 stars on it). Every day, they take the flag out in front of the door to let the truck drivers know that they're open. When they run out of meat, they take it back in. They change the flag every 15 years or so, and Wayne only had two of those. He gave one to me because he knew I was going to respect the great tradition of Texas BBQ and do it right. It’s a huge honor to have this flag at The Beast.
So, what are Parisians thinking about American-styled smoked meat?
Brisket is a big hit as people never heard of it before. The piece is nice with an intense smoke ring and good bark on the outside, while remaining extremely juicy on the inside. Extra-large beef ribs and pulled pork are also very popular. Parisians seem to be enjoying the whole menu!
Tell me about the neighborhood you opened in…seems up and coming for sure (in talking to a number people living in the city).
My street (Rue Meslay) was known as the shoe street of Paris. The area was a bit quiet but I saw potential: we are very well located in North Marais, only a few step away from Republique. Lots of art galleries are popping up in the streets nearby. The whole area seems to be changing now.
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