Zac Brown Band and Chef Rusty at Kingsford Meet and Greets 2011 | Grilling with Rich Zac Brown Band and Chef Rusty at Kingsford Meet and Greets 2011

Zac Brown Band Eat & Greets Sponsored By Kingsford Charcoal

Posted By: Richard Wachtel
Published: August 8, 2011

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This is a special Grilling with Rich post! During the 4th of July weekend, we traveled down to Charlotte, NC to meet up with Executive Chef Rusty Hamlin and also the Zac Brown Band during their 2011 tour. The Zac Brown Band has partnered with Kingsford charcoal which spotlights Brown’s favorite southern recipes, prepared by Southern Ground Executive Chef, Rusty Hamlin, using fresh local ingredients. Chef Rusty. I want to thank Kingsford for giving me this amazing opportunity. I have also complied both the interview and some the recipes into one convent PDF that you can download by clicking here. To learn more about the Eat and Greets click here. I took a lot of great pictures during my amazing July 4th weekend click here to see all of them!

Music and Barbecue: A Great Combination Made in the Backyard

As the trees on the side of the highway passed me by on my way down to Charlotte North Carolina there were many questions that were passing through my head, like how music and food work together? Can the idea of eating barbecue before you sit down and enjoy some great music something that can be spread across the country? Is barbecue an effective way to tell a story like how lyrics in a song tell a story? I hoped to get the answers to these questions when interviewing Chef Rusty Hamlin the Executive chef of the Zac Brown Band’s Eat and Greets.

Chef Rusty

Chef Rusty was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the summer of 1974. His first introduction to the kitchen came from his mother, who would place Rusty starting at the age of four-years-old on the counter and provide him with a spoonful of homemade goodness fresh off the stove, offering the blossoming chef a dime for each ingredient he could pick out. Soon little Rusty was identifying the nuances of his mother’s diverse dinner creations—salt & pepper were often staples to start off the evening’s earning which eventually went down to a nickel because he got really got at identifying his traditional flavors from his families cuisine, Chef Rusty caught the “cooking” bug he and earned degrees in Culinary Arts and Gourmet Nutrition from the Culinary Arts Institute of Louisiana. Two and half years later in 1996, Chef Rusty moved to Atlanta, GA where he worked with Wyatt Durrette a song writer named who invited Rusty to hear an up and coming guitar player named Zac Brown. As Chef Rusty puts it “anyone who heard or saw [Zac] perform knew that he had instant star power.” After introductions by Waytt and the discovery of their shared passion for both music and food, I mean come on, and anyone who performs a song about “Chicken Fried” must be passionate about food right? Rusty and Zac’s bond grew as they would cook together and try to re-create that perfect country breakfast, over and over, until they got it right. Fast forward to 2009 when Zac asked Rusty to come on tour with the band start to cook some great food before each concert for the band, which led to the an idea to try to feed their fans and infuse barbecue and music together. The idea was simple, it was to provide Zac Brown fans not only with a great concert, but also a real southern hospitality experience and that is where the Eat and Greets were born. During the Eat and Greets fans would be able to interact with the band in a casual setting, get served by the band and talk with them about their passion for barbecue and music with Chef Rusty being part of food experience.

Grilling with Rich During Kingsford's Zac Brown Eat and Greets

This is where I come in the scene in Charlotte, North Carolina on July 4th weekend in 2011 when I had a chance to interview Chef Rusty. After a very long drive from Washington D.C. (actually it was 6 hrs) I was rearward and blown away by eating coconut marinade pork loin, beef loin tips, mozzarella tomato salad with vinaigrette, bourbon glazed barbecue asparagus, parsnip puree (for people who aren’t sure what parsnip is – it is a root vegetable related to the carrot. Parsnips resemble carrots, but are paler than most carrots and have a sweeter taste, especially when cooked), Zac Brown’s own “pocket knife slaw,” which is his own personal recipe from when he was a boy out camping with his dad and to finish the meal we had a homemade chocolate cheese cake brownie.  I must say that I really enjoyed everything that was put on the plate. I loved the idea of adding a coconut marinade to the pork loin because the sweetness of the coconut had a great contrast to the barbecued pork loin as coconut is a great summer flavor and not usually what you get with traditional barbecue.  The beef loin was also really enjoyable. The highlight for me was the parsnip puree actually. Generally I am not big on veggies but I really enjoyed them and it had a great constancy, like mashed potatoes which I love, but even better flavor profiles to eat with my barbecue. I didn’t even realize that I was eating a vegetable which is always good in my book! {here are some other Recipes created by Southern Ground Executive Chef Rusty Hamlin on behalf of Kingsford® Charcoal and inspired by the Zac Brown Band 2011 concert tour so that you can host your own Eat and Greet at your next barbecue for your ZFamily}.

Grilling with Rich with Some Chow During Kingsford's Zac Brown Eat and Greets

A staple of the Eat and Greets is that every day after the band arrives into the town that they are playing in; and Chef Rusty emerges from his tour bus a little disoriented asking himself the question: Where I am? What City am I in? And with the goal of re-creating his days of sitting on the counter in his mom’s southern Louisiana home he ventures off to the local farmers market to find some great local ingredients to barbecue that night. Sounds easy right? Not always… as sometimes hell even has to stop at Farms along the side of the road and wake up the famers to see what they are growing, as he told the crowd at his “Supper Club” event that feeds another 150 people and joined by the opening band. Some of the challenges that Rusty encounters during his visit is what happens if he can’t find what he is looking for? or not enough to feed 350 fans? Another challenge for Chef Rusty, and what makes the Eat and Greets so special, is that up until the day of the event, when at the markets, Chef Rusty isn’t sure what ingredients he is going to have to cook with.  I told him I call this “Iron chef style barbecue cooking.” Another staple of the Eat and Greets is keeping in “mind what you are putting in your body and being responsible and understanding where your food is coming from.” Chef Rusty offered me some tips on how to create a healthy BBQ meal but without losing the unique flavors of bbq: (1) keep your grill grates clean; (2) use the grill for steaming food buy using indirect heat and also using smoke to add some additional flavoring and lastly you can always “skewer” your protein and add some healthy vegetables to the skewer.

Chef Rusty and Grilling with Rich

Even the skewer can be interesting like using Bamboo or Sugar Cane. While he is shopping for the local ingredients, Chef Rusty gets to make an amazing difference locally in each city he visits and also he gets to hear some amazing stories from the farmers he purchases his food from, and it has become his goal in life to spread the gospel of the importance of local food not only because healthy eating is important but because he is so dedicated to supporting America’s famers.  This mission is so important to him that he even mentioned to me where he got the meat for that night. (Creek Stone Farms for the Beef and White Marble Farms for the Pork) In addition Chef Rusty he hopes to get his own show where he would be able to help spread that message.  When talking about barbecue and his passion about it, one of the fondest memories of Chef Rusty’s childhood was always having a bag of Kingsford charcoals outside next to his granddad and his father while they were barbecuing. So it was a “match” made in heaven when Kingsford and the Zac Brown Band and Rusty decided to work together to create the Eat and Greets. As much as life on the road is hard, brushing your teeth with bottle water, sleeping on the bus with 9 of your closest friends, with very little privacy and living out of a suitcase,(that’s underneath the bus) but he wouldn’t trade it in for the world, cooking his is passion and his passion for barbecue and most important to him is “Zamily” that he has created with his closest friend Zac and the 84 other people who travel with the band from city to city.  To Chef Rusty barbecue is more than just creating a dish to him, it is an art form just like “a painter draws on a canvas to tell a story or capture a scene, barbecue is also putting together a picture to tell a story through food which you get to actually experience it,” and its important art because “it goes into your body.”

Grilling with Rich & the Kingsford Equipment Box

As Rusty and I parted for the evening I asked him what’s next for him both in the “Barbecue World” and with his career? In the barbecue world, he said to me that he recently got a chance to barbecue with World Champion Chris Lilly during the New York City Block Party this year and he was interested in learning what it takes to be a championship Pitmaster. In the non-barbecue world, Chef Rusty is working with Top Chef Winner Stephanie Izard chef and owner of the “Girl and The Goat,” and creating a benefit event for the non-profit Save Our Strength which fights child hunger in the United States. As I headed back to Washington D.C. the next morning, I thought to myself “did I answer all of the questions I set out for myself at the beginning of my journey? Does music and barbecue work together?” I think so. Music is about telling a story through the lyrics and sounds; and reminds you of the places and the people that you meet along your journeys and help you get to center stage. Barbecue is also an art form because you are telling the story of yourself, and also the people and places that inspire you, through the flavors and because of the friends and family who also share with you in the experience of eating the finished product that you put on the plate. As Zac Brown (and Rusty) would say:”…it’s funny how it`s the simple things in life that mean the most Not where you live, what you drive, or the price tag on your clothes There`s no dollar sign on a piece of mind this I`ve come to know So if you agree have a drink with me Raise you glasses for a toast To a little bit of chicken fried…”or BARBECUED!

~See you at the Grill~


Grilling with Rich on the Zac Brown Stage

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