By IGOR GURYASHKIN
Chad Cooley grew up in Wichita, Kan., on a hearty diet of his motherâ€™s home cooking and Kansan barbecue. Having moved to Louisville thirteen years ago, he decided in May of last year to open up Mommaâ€™s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ restaurant on Bauer Avenue in St. Matthews.
Serving up smoked meats Kansas City-style, Cooleyâ€™s restaurant has quietly become a place of carnivorous worship for Louisvilleâ€™s barbecue cognoscenti. With demand forcing him to expand into the property that used to be Zazooâ€™s Bar & Grill and with a second location on the way, Cooley sat down with the Voice-Tribune to explain how the Kentucky Derby of all things led to him spending every day perfecting the perfect smoked cut.
THE VOICE-TRIBUNE: So how did you come to open a Kansas City-style barbecue joint in Louisville?
CHAD COOLEY: Me and my friend Jamie (Given) had been talking about opening a food truck for a long time but then I had someone be extremely rude to me at another bar in the neighborhood. So Jamie and I decided that they needed some competition.
VOICE-TRIBUNE: So youâ€™re like a neighborhood foodie Tony Soprano?
COOLEY: Yeah (laughs), something like that. We bought a food truck a year ago and itâ€™s still not ready. So while we were waiting to do that we used this kitchen to work on our barbecue and dug in a little bit and now weâ€™re opening at another location on Hurstbourne Avenue and Shelbyville Road in about 3 months.
COOLEY: The response weâ€™ve been getting has been tremendous. Itâ€™s been just pure gratitude. People are grateful for being given good barbecue. I guess itâ€™s hard to get good barbecue around here.
VOICE-TRIBUNE: Why do you think itâ€™s is it so hard?
COOLEY: Itâ€™s so hard to do well. Weâ€™ve sent our pitmaster to study with the seven-time world barbeque champion and visit all of the Kansas City barbecue joints. We do Kansas City style which is mostly a dry rub with sweet and tangy flavors. We do smoked wings as well burnt ends, which is the end of the brisket sliced up. Thatâ€™s pretty unique.
VOICE-TRIBUNE: Speaking of unique have you ever tried smoking anything more unusual? Venison, duck, rabbit?
COOLEY: We tried smoking camel once.
COOLEY: I got a guy (laughs). But in truth it was a little tough.
VOICE-TRIBUNE: You seem to spend a lot of time doing this, but this is not even your full-time job, correct?
COOLEY: No, this is actually hobby, a kind of labor of love. Even though I do it everyday, day and night.
VOICE-TRIBUNE: So is barbecue something you grew up on?
COOLEY: Yeah, absolutely. You canâ€™t get bad barbecue going through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. You canâ€™t go wrong there – itâ€™s beef country. But everything we make is done exactly the way I like it. The baked beans, mashed potatoes and pickles are my mumâ€™s recipe. The mustard too. Itâ€™s just one thing after another that I used to eat growing up.
COOLEY: Well Iâ€™ll tell you what, it does bring back some nice memories doesnâ€™t it? My mum used to hand out jars of her homemade mustard and pickles at Christmas time. But I wasnâ€™t trying to, no. I guess I was just trying to share.
VOICE-TRIBUNE: Why do you think people are so picky and passionate when it comes to barbecue?
COOLEY: I personally get passionate about it because itâ€™s delicious (laughs). What other people find most delicious then divides them into different camps. Flavor, texture, color. But because I taste it everyday, I reckon weâ€™ll get it exactly how I like it. And if we do that, weâ€™ll get it really similar to what Oklahoma Joeâ€™s is doing in Kansas City. But barbecue is like sex – it doesnâ€™t have to be good for you to enjoy it. Itâ€™s really good stuff.
VOICE-TRIBUNE: Do you ever get bored of eating barbecue?
COOLEY: No! And Iâ€™ve got to quit eating so much because Iâ€™m eating it two or three times a day now and Iâ€™ve been doing that for six months straight now.
COOLEY: Well, when I moved to Louisville I went to my first Kentucky Derby and I bet on Monarchos (winner 2001) and was hooked on racing ever since. On the ride home I started studying up and started buying shares in a few horses and Iâ€™ve been owning bits of horses ever since. Later I was in a deal on some horses that werenâ€™t paying out with some friends and they gave me a piece of Mucho Macho Man and it was a dream come true. I got to walk him on the track on Derby day and in the paddock with my dad. Itâ€™s just something that you canâ€™t buy – a dream come true. Then later on some owners made me an offer I thought was exorbitant. So I took the money and used it to open this place.
VOICE-TRIBUNE: Oklahoma Joeâ€™s is famously one the best barbecue joints in the country right? People say you have to eat there before you die.
COOLEY: Joeâ€™s is amazing. Itâ€™s in a gas station, an actual working gas station and there is always a line outside of the door. Thatâ€™s my favorite place without a doubt, although Jack Stack comes close. I like some of our stuff better now, and some of what they (Oklahoma Joeâ€™s) do is better, but we continue to improve everyday. You see thereâ€™s nothing fancy about barbecue, but if itâ€™s done right, itâ€™s delicious and people enjoy it. It really is as simple as that. People go and eat barbecue in a dive and it almost tastes better. If it tastes good, people find you.