Interview with a Chef: Ottawa Ribfest’s Matt Smith of Gator BBQ

Nick Smith, left, and his father Matt, of Gator BBQ.


For over 30 years, Gator BBQ has been delivering mouth-watering chicken, pulled pork and ribs to the hungry crowds of Rib Fests all across North America. Touring Canada and the Northern United States, the Smith family of Port Dover continue to win countless awards and events with their signature southern BBQ cuisine. On the eve of Ottawa Ribfest, I caught up with Matt Smith to discuss his humble BBQ beginnings, his secret for achieving great tasting barbecue and if he ever gets tired of being around so much BBQ!

How did you get involved in the BBQ business?
By accident mostly. I used to be part of the carnival circuit for Conklin Shows and eventually crossed paths with a fella who ran these Ribfests. I started my own team and its grown from there—must be 20 years at least. We were there at the very start!

Tell me about the BBQ process. Boil or bake? Smoker? Hardwood or gas?
Always smoked. Ribs, pork and chicken are done in our smoker (Southern Pride) for various times depending on the meat. Although the fuel is propane, there’s a wood oven that heats the smoker and pumps the heated smoke throughout. (more…)

The 2015 Rogers Cup in Montreal

Filip Peliwo

Filip Peliwo

The highlight of my trip to Montreal, this year, was an eye-opening study in contrast; two worlds colliding. A symphony of athletic prowess juxtaposed next to an opus to excess. The pursuit of glory and the pursuit of gluttony. Pure discipline vs. pure gourmandize.

Let’s begin with the good. Playing professional tennis requires hours of devotion and years of sacrifice. I marveled at the players’ talent and physicality. Seeing them up close is a wonder. In what was very lucky break for me, I got to see, meet and shake the hand of my favourite player, Filip Peliwo. I caught him after a lengthy practice and he couldn’t have been kinder or more polite. This man is a terrific player with fiery determination, cocky swagger and a never-say-die-go-after-every-shot resoluteness. His play can be electrifying and goose-bump inducing. He’s still trying to find his way on the tour and, I believe that he will one day be amongst the world’s best. Did I tell you that I got to shake his hand? 🙂

Of course, Filip fanboying aside, I got to be in the presence of many top players. I stood about a foot away from eventual champ, Andy Murray, watched Stan Wawrinka and Grigor Dimitrov dutifully practice, and I witnessed the return of the bespectacled one, Janko Tipsarevic.

This year’s Open had some pretty decent concession fare, as well. A chicken sandwich that included an honest to goodness chicken breast, and a combo platter made up of a ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette was served alongside a tomato salad and chocolate cake. It was very civilized given the occasion and milieu.


The best thing I ate this month – May 2015

“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – Julia Child

Behold the feast placed before me. Sticky-sweet finger-licking ribs. Perfectly grilled smokey eggplant and zucchini. Home-made capicola with the just right balance of fat, salt, fresh seasonings and meaty texture. Flavourful roasted eggplant and peppers itching to be topped on fresh bread. Chicken kebabs, juicy and tender. Freshly steamed lobster, oh so succulent and sweet. And enough wine and alcohol to subsist us for days.

These friends o’ mine are kind, cool and definitely ‘the best people.’ The spread was scrumptious and exquisite, mouth-watering and heavenly. It was fun and it was satisfying. And it was definitely the best thing I ate this month.

Where there’s smoke, there’s great barbeque

I found a shrine to serious barbeque. A place that pays homage to the Southern US “Barbeque Belt.” A restaurant that upholds the sanctity and authenticity of barbeque and one that will charm even the most hardened BBQ regionalists. A place called Fatboys Southern Smokehouse Bar-B-Que.

The aroma of hickory hangs in the air, a clear indication that this establishment takes the art of grilling meat very seriously. Many a restaurant prattle on about being the best at this or that. But I do declare that these folks’ crowning glory are its Memphis-style dry rub smoked ribs. Moist, crisp and meaty. Smokey, juicy and gnaw-able. Succulent and quite pleasingly finger-licking tasty. The dry rub of paprika, black pepper, cayenne and brown sugar create complex flavours. The wood burning oven allows the smoke to penetrate the tender meat and gives them that faint taste of caramel and hickory. Sublime. These ribs are bound for stardom. While idyllic on their own, you can also slather them with some of Fatboys’ homemade sauces: Memphis Mustard, Tennessee Sweet or Hillbilly Heat.

If you don’t fancy ribs there are plenty of other offerings to be had. Carolina catfish, Memphis BBQ spaghetti, beef brisket, a smoked burger, a pulled-pork sandwich, the “American Thanksgiving” platter and some smoked bacon mac’n cheese, to name but a few.

Traditionalists may rankle at the thought of real authentic BBQ in the nation’s capital, but they would be wise not to dismiss Fatboy’s dedication to celebrating the art of barbeque in all its glory. As their website states, the “Snow Belt unites with the BBQ Belt, which is why all 13 Southern states flags fly proudly outside Fatboys Southern Smokehouse.” I would go so far as to say that they are not only upholding the BBQ heritage of the South, they are building their own BBQ legacy north of the border with great success!

Beer, beer and atmosphere

More than once we looked at each other and said “this place is cool.” We were sitting on the patio of the Mill St. Brewery, surrounded by trees, the nearby river, what seemed like hundreds of people and a curious rabbit. If you like beer, this is the place for you.

Mill St. is housed in the 140-year-old former Mill restaurant out on Wellington Street near the War Museum. I met up with the crew a little bit late and they were already well settled into the palates of beer. Being a brewery, this place is all about the cold ones. They have 14 taps that include Tankhouse Ale and some brews designed especially for their Ottawa patrons. While you’re there, you may want to take a free tour of the brewery or drop by the retail store to take home some beer samples and Mill St. merch. It’s like beer wonderland!

Beer palate
The food is classic pub fare. Sandwiches and burgers, some flat breads, mussels, salads and wings. The food incorporates Mill St. beer into many of the menu items. I had the daily special, the ribs and french fries. While the ribs were a little on the ordinary side the fries were definitely a standout. They were soft which is not the usual texture for fries. They tasted sweet and spicy. And they were addictive. Maybe they were also cooked in beer. I forgot to ask. Next time. The gang sampled the angus burger, fish and chips and the club. No complaints and most everyone cleaned their plates. While the food is good, it’s definitely not the draw. And that’s ok.

The Mill St. Brewery is slick and screams atmosphere. There’s no other place like it in Ottawa and because of that, it’s going to do really well. Expect long lines to get in all summer long. I’l be there for sure.

Beer-B-Que ribs & chips
Angus burger
Fish ‘n’ chips

Mill Street Brew Pub on Urbanspoon

Get their minds off of work: Day 4

I had layed out the weekly menu on Monday so my employees were anticipating this day all week: Rib Day. “Make sure you don’t miss rib day” was my daily mantra to them. I think everyone can agree that ribs make most everyone happy. And my ribs, correction, Bon Appétit’s ribs, are amaaaaaazing. I had made them many times over and those tasters had unoffically voted them “best ribs ever.” So easy, so good. Salt and pepper the ribs, wrap them in foil, throw them in the oven for two hours, slather them with a reduced cherry cola sauce, 5 minutes on the BBQ or indoor grill and you have pure deliciousness.

Bon Appétit’s cherry cola ribs

So with rib day, our week came to an end. I work a four-day work week and on Friday they would have to endure a week’s worth of leftovers. I didn’t hear any complaintsmy people were ever so grateful.  I am happy that we got to spend some time together during this tough time at work. Oh, and the loved the ribs, btw. I knew they would!