Josh Barhaug, exec chef of Fired Up, on Bisquick, eating dog and lazy-ass cooks
This is part one of my chef interview with Josh Barhaug, who mans the line -- and pizza oven -- at Fired Up. Part two of our chat will run tomorrow.
The first recipe that Josh Barhaug ever attempted came out of a Bisquick box. He was ten or eleven and hungry for a hot dog. "My mom worked full-time, so I did a lot of my own cooking, and for some reason, I wanted a hot dog, but we didn't have any buns," he remembers, "so I grabbed the Bisquick box, and there on the back was a recipe for a hot-dog-bun-biscuit-like thing." He says he followed the recipe precisely and the results weren't bad -- at least not for a first-time effort.
Pancakes soon became another constant in his cooking repertoire, and since he lived in Wyoming, where hunting is a prized pastime, he practiced -- and perfected -- his aim and went out into the wild, shooting deer, elk and antelope, then lugging the meat home. "We did everything ourselves, from the hunting to the butchering to cutting our own steaks, and while I only hunt birds now, it taught me a lot about living off the land and cooking without a lot of extra money in your pocket," says Barhaug, now the chef/owner of Fired Up, a new artisan, wood-fired pizza emporium in the Golden Triangle.
But his first job wasn't quite so lofty. "I was fourteen and got a job as a line cook at a Perkins Family Restaurant in Sheridan, Wyoming," he recalls, noting that the pickings were slim for a teenager searching for employment. But the gig turned out better than he'd expected. "First, there's no such thing as a bad experience, and second, working at Perkins taught me a ton about speed, volume and, most important, flat-top cooking," he quips.
And he liked cooking enough that he continued to seek out food-related stints, working at a pizza buffet restaurant and at a family-owned grocer, which happened to devote its parking lot to a pit master. "I worked in the produce department at the market, but the best part of the job was learning a ton about smoking meats," says Barhaug. "There was the guy -- Kenny -- who had a smokehouse in the parking lot, and every day that I worked, I'd hang out with him so he could teach me the ropes. It was the first time I'd eaten ribs, and I was freakin' blown away."
Those ribs fed an overall urge to continue cooking, and Barhaug considered enrolling in culinary school. But the tuition was out of reach -- at least at the time -- so he enlisted in the Army, where he was a chemical-operations specialist. While that had absolutely nothing to do with cooking, he was stationed in Korea, and during his time there, he got the opportunity to sample the local cuisine...including dog. "While I was there, I fell in love with Korean food and Korean barbecue -- I could smell kimchi everywhere -- and then, there I was, this dude from Wyoming, suddenly sitting at table at a restaurant with a Korean-style dish with herbs and spices and chopped-up dog in front of me," he recalls with a slight grimace. "It was an interesting experience at a place that specifically raised dogs for human consumption, but the whole time, I was trying not to picture the dog, and now that I have one of my own, I definitely don't think I could eat it again," he admits, adding that it was "tough and chewy."