Drew Akin is a man on a mission. The Head Chef and Pitmaster at The Curious Squire in North Adelaide wants to introduce Australians to the joys of bar-b-q-ing – Alabama-style.
Although the backyard barbie is an Aussie institution, this way of cooking actually originated in the Caribbean. It soon found its way to America and, in its traditional form, is quite different to the classic Australian barbecue.
‘It’s just a really good way of cooking,’ says Drew. ‘The recipes and the traditions of it have been passed down in the South part of the United States for years. There’s different classes and different styles of the cooking. The one I do is where I’m from, which is Alabama. I’m just bringing that here now, which is just continuing the story of the cuisine itself.’
Where better for a storytelling chef to work than in a brewbar named after James Squire, whose remarkable, varied life story is brought to life today in the range of craft beers that bear his name? Still, it rather raises the question of just how a good ol’ Southern boy from Birmingham, Alabama, came to be in Adelaide in the first place.
Alabama to Adelaide
‘I was in a southern rock band called Caddle – we opened for guys like Kid Rock, The Black Crowes, David Allan Coe, Lynyrd Skynyrd, names like that,’ Drew says.
‘I was playing this music festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. We had played the night before in Kentucky and were heading back down to Birmingham, and I saw this girl sitting at the bar… I said to our lead singer, "I’m going to marry that girl right there."
'So I got up and walked around to the other side of the bar to talk to her and she had an Australian accent. August 21st 2006 was the day we met and we’ve been together ever since. We got married here [in Adelaide]. We got married in the church where her parents were married. I’ve been here five years and became a citizen last year.’
2013 was a big year for Drew. As well as getting Australian citizenship, he also started work at The Curious Squire. ‘I’ve been cooking since I was 17, so I’ve been in restaurants for about 20 years now.’
He’s clearly passionate about his vocation: ‘I’m from a place where we take food very seriously. It’s part of our culture, it’s part of when families get together and it’s part of making friends. It’s not just necessarily about putting a pretty schmeer, it’s actually got a story behind it.
‘It’s soul food, that’s the easiest way to describe it. But I enjoy cooking bar-b-q, I enjoy cooking Cajun, Mexican, old traditional Southern favourites. That’s what The Curious Squire has allowed me to do and I’m very excited and very thankful for the opportunity.’
Food and James Squire craft beer
Being able to cook with the top-quality craft beer of the James Squire range is also something Drew relishes, noting that the emergence of craft beer in Australia has echoes in his native Alabama. Because brewing great craft beer is a cooking process as well as a fermentation process, Drew believes it makes sense to combine the two, both in terms of matching a finished dish with a James Squire craft beer, or using the beer as a key ingredient.
‘We use a Jack of Spades Porter – it’s a really dark, complex porter that’s got a little bit of chocolate and roasted coffee – in our marinade for our sirloin,’ he reveals. ‘We also use the Nine Tales Amber Ale in our Chile Con Carne, which goes on top of nachos, and we make our beer batter out of The Chancer Golden Ale.
‘I try to feature James Squire craft beer because it is such a good product, but the hero is still the smoked meat, the bar-b-q that we’re doing. The beer is a great asset to that.’
And what about relaxing after a long shift in the kitchen? Drew still enjoys playing his guitar around the house, as well as kicking back with a James Squire ‘Four Wives’ Pilsener.
‘It’s like the champagne of beers and the kind of thing I drink back home,’ he says. ‘But the whole James Squire range is up there with some of the craft beers that I’ve tasted back home. I definitely rate it.’
– The Curious Squire is at 10 O’Connell Street, North Adelaide.