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A la Carte: Unpretentious and approachable

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By Rachel Hergett EBS COLUMNIST

Rad Foods chef/owner Austin Brown’s main concerns are the food he makes and the people he feeds.

“We’re not focused on the aesthetic,” he said, pointing to a grouping of mismatched art crookedly hanging on the wall, including a mostly nude woman and a smiling Jack Nicholson.

When Brown ran into bureaucratic hurdles trying to hang a sign outside and then in the window of the house on Mendenhall Street in Bozeman that is home to Rad Foods (and Brown too), he decided he didn’t need a sign. People would find him.

I found Brown on Monday in the yellow house that was once home to a vegetarian Indian restaurant. Brown was splitting giant ribs of local wagyu beef, dry-rubbed and smoked to tender perfection, and chopping hunks from brisket or beef “baby backs” for the Rad Foods pop-up Yellow House Barbecue. The Texas native is not a vegetarian. 

“Rad” Foods started as “Researched and Developed” and Brown has credentials to back up the claim. The former chef at the Lotus Pad and Lone Mountain Ranch has classical French training and has honed his craft under five different Michelin-starred chefs. (Though Michelin may be simply a tire company for those uninitiated in the world of fine dining, the stars awarded in the Michelin travel guide are one of the food industry’s top honors.) 

Brown shows off his custom smoker, Billy Joe. PHOTO BY RACHEL HERGETT

Brown’s food is obviously researched and developed. It speaks to the time and care that went into it. But it also speaks to the passion. The chef babies his barbecue overnight in the largest smoker I’ve ever seen. Brown said he was up until 6 a.m. before the pop-up to feed the three-doored beautiful monstrosity housed in a tent out back. The smoker is roughly the size of a small ship. It can handle 400 pounds of meat at once, Brown said. More, actually. An ample kitchen-island sized fire table is attached if one also needs to flame grill steaks and such. The smoker was custom built by Mill Scale Metal Works in Lockhart, Texas. And it has a name: Billy Joe in memory of Brown’s grandfather, who grew up in Lockhart, where his father (Brown’s great grandfather) was once sheriff.

“Barbecue isn’t born with a soul,” according to the caption of a Yellow House Barbecue Instagram post (the primary place to hear about the pop-ups), “it’s given one by its maker.

You don’t think of Michelin stars and fine dining when you meet Brown. He’s a big affable man who makes you feel like family when you walk into the yellow house. Brown likens the building to his pirate ship, though I told him it wasn’t convincing until there is a flag somewhere. 

“We’re like a band of misfits that sometimes does stuff,” he says. 

Inside, the pirate crew is encouraged to explore their own interests. On a given week, Yellow House Barbecue may be served alongside doughnuts crafted by chef de cuisine Nicole Smith or cheese steaks, Philly style, from Whiz Wit. Brown has also teamed with other chefs like “Sushi Paul” from Izakaya Three Fish to explore how their styles mesh. Brown’s cooking is self-described as “unpretentious and approachable.”

Rad Foods chef Austin Brown feeds the people with a barbecue popup. PHOTO BY RACHEL HERGETT

“We’re trying to find a balance of what we love and what everyone else does,” he said.

Brown said part of his desire to create community around food and keep it as accessible as possible (if you know where to look) stems from a random exchange at the Cat’s Paw. A man asked him about his job, Brown explained what a chef does, and the man responded, “that’s great and all, but I’ll never be able to eat your food.” 

Rad Foods has leased and plans to build out a new, larger space in the Bon Ton Flour Mills in Bozeman to increase its offerings. The yellow house, then, would become a place for others to explore their creativity in the kitchen like he did when he bought it seven years ago. 

“That stuck with me,” Brown said. 

Rad Foods is at 609 W. Mendenhall St. in Bozeman. For more information, visit www.radfoodsmt.com. Follow @yellowhousebbq on Instagram to learn about the pop-up’s appearances.

Rachel Hergett is a foodie and cook from Montana. She is arts editor emeritus at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and has written for publications such as Food Network Magazine and Montana Quarterly. Rachel is also the host of the Magic Monday Show on KGLT-FM and teaches at Montana State University. 

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