Meet Brad Prose
"Backyard BBQ is a traditional area, but fine dining is more about the invention. That’s what I bring to the table: infusing base ingredients with cultural tastes, drawing their passion to the surface, and making gorgeous, delicious dishes that absolutely crackle with personality. And at Chiles and Smoke, I’m gonna show you how to do it."
Recipes From Chiles and Smoke
Born to Grill With Chiles and Smoke
Being creative with food is something that’s always driven me, but college is where the blinders blew off. Would you believe that Freshman year, I’d never tried sushi or even heard of hummus? Still, I was pretty much the only undergrad I knew who could cook — thanks, Dad! — which meant I got paid in meat. A lot of meat. With Iron Chef on in the background and a piping-hot grill in front of me (one propane, one charcoal), I dove into foreign cuisines on a serious culinary adventure; it honestly felt like traveling to all these exotic locales through food.
But the road to Chiles and Smoke was no straight line. First, I took my new degree in industrial design and began a company building furniture for nightclubs (well, until a little thing called “the Recession” came knocking). Sought a smarter, more responsible field: finance, the corn starch of spices. Soon met my culinary oxymoron — a vegetarian — and married her. Living with my wife necessitated learning to make a lot of not-salads; throw in a child a few years on with food allergies, and a creative itch that wouldn’t quit, and you have the ingredients for a lot of culinary swerves.
Don’t think I ever let go of my design principles, though. You could say my cooking tactics boil down to spotlighting unusual but incredible flavors through a blend of fine dining and barbecue. Now, “fine dining” isn’t a term I just throw around — I’ve competed professionally against fine dining chefs with an arsenal of BBQ techniques. I work with tried-and-true grilling elements and figure out how to make them exciting. Sliced brisket under 50/50 pepper and salt tastes awesome, but it doesn’t cut it for me anymore.
Backyard BBQ is more of a traditional area, but fine dining is more about the invention. That’s what I bring to the table: infusing base ingredients with cultural tastes, drawing their passion to the surface, and making gorgeous, delicious dishes that absolutely crackle with personality. And at Chiles and Smoke, I’m gonna show you how to do it.
Q & A With Brad Prose
How did you get your start in the industry?
It was a pretty natural progression. Experiencing lots of flavors in college meant starting off at square one with a ton of global cuisine in my back pocket, and… well, I’ve already mentioned the curveballs of my firstborn’s allergies. Comparatively speaking, I was already deeply inventive — but now I was inventive, creatively stagnant, and motivated. My knack for presentation wasn’t too shabby, either.
To my surprise, my wife began nudging me to start posting to Instagram. So I did what husbands do — and listened! [Laughs.] I saw people doing all these crazy things. Starting from my personal account, I bought my first DSLR in summer 2018, taught myself food photography from YouTube, and didn’t really try to grow. The following January is when I began taking the idea of a brand seriously. With better DIY rigs, better marketing, and a few months of late nights, I went 200 to 2,000 followers and… well, you get the picture.
Why do you do what you do?
To push back on the idea that barbecue is strictly Americana. Let me put it to you this way: my first smoker was a kamado grill, and I learned on that the hard way… for 6–7 years! It helped me try really crazy things beyond your traditional BBQ. How do you incorporate BBQ into allergy-sensitive, global cuisine? Digging into that drew me out of your standard Texan fare to Mexican and Indian dishes, then a healthy heaping from South America…
The world’s bigger than briskets and burgers. Don’t get me wrong — get to know your butcher. But get to know your Asian grocer up the road, too. Widen your lens, and you’ll spearhead some fun flavors your friends and folks won’t forget anytime soon.
Could you tell us about your earliest food memory?
[Laughs] You know, there’s this distinct one that jumps out from an Easter brunch at a hotel when I was, oh, 6 or 7? Here’s the first dish to really blow my mind: super thick Texas toast, flambéed into a peanut butter mouse sandwich. Never knew you could put those together! I remember biting into that as a child and thinking, “Oh my gosh — how can I have this every day?!” First thing I did back home was figure out PB&J French toast. A lot of observation and creativity was instilled by hitting a dish like that early on. I should track that line chef down one day. I owe ‘em a beer.
What nurtures your spark for cooking?
Let me answer that one with a story. So, my wife’s uncle and his family were over; they’re from every corner of El Paso. Picture a trompo (a vertical spit) on the smoker, loaded with marinaded pork and topped with pineapple and onions. When her uncle sat down and saw the tower, he had one taco on his plate — he’s pretty picky — and he tried it. His face lit up… and then he was back on his feet, bringing back something like four more tacos! [Laughs.] Reminding someone who knows the real deal of home through my food… that’s my favorite feeling. I’ll never forget moments like that.
You’re a guy who knows your flavor profiles. How would you describe your favorite one?
It’s true. I like a variety of flavor profiles — sweet, acidic, and bitter are good ones — to complement each other. I’m not a believer that you need these things on every single dish, but I love to play them together. More specifically, I love anything savory that has heat and umami flavor. One look at my recipes, and you’ll see I don’t cook a lot of sweet things; not much BBQ sauce, from personal taste. But savory and spicy coming together, such as gochujang and soy, can make for funky fermented flavors. Taming that into a complementary sauce or baste, especially into a taste I can layer through vegetables… now that’s something I’ll always get down with.
How do you come up with your recipe ideas?
Straight for the trade secrets, huh? [Laughs.] Definitely cookbooks. I buy ones that have nothing to do with BBQ and more with fine dining, and try to focus on the treatment of individual ingredients. So, if eggplant takes the spotlight, I’ll purée it, grill it, play on that ingredient, and see what it adds to the dish. I’ll take it and cook it 5, 6 different ways to see not only what it would taste like, but where it could fit in other areas of barbecue. Got some lamb to sous vide? Why not add eggplant? Maybe it needs something brighter, like mango or charred pineapple. From there, the game plan is to try and figure out how the components fit together.
Fascinating. Does this mean you keep meticulous notes?
Nail, meet hammer. We’re talking, 5–6 notebooks, 15-year-old Pinterest collections loaded with hundreds and hundreds of recipes with dishes I’ve never even made… man, I have so many ideas. I could probably stop researching right this second and be set for a year!
So, I’m literally that guy who will take a shower, realize I have 20 ideas, and just have to write them down. I know I sound crazy. To be creative, I feel you have to keep your mind open at all times. The more you watch, the more you read, the more you listen… The more you pick up. I am always on, always blending those things. That’s why I’m known in the BBQ community for being the cross between backyard and fine dining.
Can you tell us what’s on the horizon for “Chiles and Smoke?”
Sure thing: YouTube! I’m already starting to post recipes there. That feels like where I need to go to build more of an interactive community — asking people what they want to see, and trying other’s recipes. So many skilled chefs and backyard BBQ people… I’d love to make their recipes, highlight them, get into some like-minded collaborations, and become a platform to push the new-school barbecue out there.