The Smoking Barrel
Located in the township of Motueka on the Great Taste Trail Coastal Route, Hodgson samples a menu that includes slow barbecue smoked meats and seafood, and a huge range of disgustingly delicious donuts.
While succulent slow cooked barbecue and smoked meats are behind the name of this popular restaurant it is the fresh, handcrafted donuts that have made The Smoking Barrel almost world famous.
Plenty of people from all around the region make the drive to Motueka just to get their hands on those donuts so I visited them recently to check them out for myself and to find out more about the smoked meats and what drives the enthusiastic young couple who own the business.
The Smoking Barrel opened in the former Hot Mamas premises on High Street, Motueka in the Winter of 2016 and husband and wife team, Josiah and Rachel Smits bring a huge amount of experience to the business.
Josiah launched his career as a chef working at the prestigious Lodge at Paratiho Farms going on to become the head chef at Up the Garden Path café for 7 years, he cooked fine dining for a number of luxury lodges in the region as well as a six week stint in Manhattan, New York, as a private chef.
Whilst cooking at Paratiho, some guests enjoyed his cooking so much that they took him back to New York to cook through the Summer, “this was an incredible opportunity for a 20 year old local boy from Motueka. They took me to all the top restaurants in Manhattan which really inspired me as a young chef, I cooked for their friends and family 4-5 days a week and in between they took me to Yankee games, Broadway shows and many other great New York top spots.”
Rachel on the other hand came to the business from a visual art and design background and has a real eye for detail, both in the interior design of the premises and in the operation of the business, she is also a makeup artist and a mum to two children.
When they took over the lease, Hot Mamas had been closed for two months. “they had literally shut the doors and walked out” according to Rachel, “it was rundown and in need of some TLC. We had a new-born baby and a three year old toddler, so we set up camp in the restaurant and worked through each night cleaning and renovating for six weeks solid with the incredible help of friends and family.”
When the doors opened in June 2016, the kitchen team consisted of Josiah and a kitchen hand, Josiah working an average of more than 21 hours a day because the business grew so quickly in popularity – welcome to self-employment in the hospitality industry!
They now have five chefs in the kitchen and a baker who starts around midnight employed solely to create those delicious donuts and about 20 other full and part time staff, most of whom are locals.”
The menu incorporates traditional American low and slow barbecue smoked meats and seafood with bold, punchy and fresh flavours. “There is a strong smoked influence that runs through our menu but we also offer variety of fresh, non-smoked, vegetarian and plenty of gluten free options as well.”
Any successful hospitality business is about more than just the food, Rachel uses her designer’s eye for detail in every aspect of the business, “when we train our staff we make sure we focus on the small things, we aim to go beyond what people expect of a café or restaurant, it’s these details that puts smiles on faces and has people returning time and time again.”
The Smoking Barrel began with a cold smoker made out of an old red wine barrel from Seifried Estate that Josiah cut the top off and he set up racks in the barrel then installed a cold smoking system that pumps smoke in from the outside of the barrel; this technique enables food to be infused with smoke but doesn’t cook the product.
They have since added the imported American BBQ which hot smokes and is like another baby for Josiah.
Rachel said the smoker is like a magnet when it is operating, which is most days, “when the smoker is going, people come out and we talk about what we are doing and how we go about smoking the different products, Josiah often gives onlookers little taste tests direct from the smoker, it gets people excited and generates some great conversations.
“A lot of people are really interested in smoked foods because it’s been a kiwi way of life since way back and not just kiwis, smoking and grilling food over a fire using wood or coal is an ancient way of cooking and it’s making a comeback.”
Like many people in New Zealand, we have a smoker at home and we use it quite a bit (smoked tomato’s make great passata and try smoking some pumpkin for a pumpkin and chilli soup), once you have had proper smoked food you fall in love with the flavour but at The Smoking Barrel they take it to a whole new level.
Josiah tells me that “when meat has been lovingly and carefully smoked for the right amount of time, it can be a pretty special experience, the meat is usually in the smoker for 12 -14 hours in total so I’m often still at work at 3am and the smoker can be going 72 hours straight to keep up with demand, the longest single working ‘day’ was a 40-hour straight shift.
“It is the passion to keep the quality of the product high that drives me and at times we can be really busy which means we run low on smoked products so I just need to work whatever hours it takes because we can’t just run down to the butcher, buy a steak and grill it in 5 minutes. Low and slow BBQ takes time – like a lot of the best things in life.”
Getting back to those donuts! They now make around 400 a day in the weekends and have about 12 different types on any given day, “we have a large variety of flavours which we rotate, some with syringes, some filled, some filled then fried so they go all melty and gooey in the middle” according to Rachel.
“The donuts caught us by surprise a bit. We didn’t invent the donut or the syringe injected donut but people go crazy for them, there’s just something about them people love.”
It’s Josiah’s donut recipe, “I started making six a day and they sold out so I made 12, then 24 and so on. Every day they would sell out so the next week we would make double, now we make up to five hundred on really busy days.”
“Our German baker, Rosi, is a donut superstar, she cranks out hundreds of handmade donuts daily and works hard to ensure consistently incredible donuts every day”
“We have such great staff and for that we are so thankful” says Rachel, “to make this whole operation run smoothly every cog has to work well together, we are now a 24 hour operation and have a really cohesive team. To satisfy the love people have for their donuts, Josiah and Rachel have built a donut cart and will be selling donut ice creams (with the cones made from donut dough) and their filled donuts too of course so keep an eye out for them at upcoming markets, fairs, festivals and other events.
And the last word goes to Josiah “we want to be known as a great restaurant and not just a donut shop, we have worked hard to find points of difference in everything we do from the menu to the service, the décor and our products.”
Thanks to Neil Hodgson for permission to use this article, first published 7/1/18