Chef Thomas Boemer of Revival and Corner Table
Photography by Eliesa Johnson
Thomas Boemer is the chef behind the cult-status fried chicken sensation Revival and the nose-to-tail champion restaurant Corner Table. He’s Alain Ducasse–trained, a master of pâté en croûte, and he can sous vide foie gras with the best of them. It’s a charmed life, right? Well, it wasn’t till he found barbecue. Or rather, till it found him.
Boemer was born into that particular Minnesota milieu where salt is spice enough for anyone. “My grandfather was the kind of Midwesterner where pepper was forbidden because it was too spicy,” says Boemer. When it was time to splurge, the main treat Boemer recalls at home was cheese and crackers—broken saltines on a plate, covered with melted Velveeta.
When he was 5, Boemer and his family moved to Lexington, North Carolina, where he became friends with a neighboring family who took him to a party. “I go up to this young kid, about my age, and he said, ‘Would you like some barbecue?’ I was so confused. ‘Barbecued what?’ He looked at me like I was insane. ‘Barbecue.’ He gave me a roll, put the barbecue and slaw on it—it was the best thing I had ever tasted in my whole life. It was like feeding me crack. It was like if you had spent your whole life walking around with a bag over your head and someone takes it off and says, ‘This is life.’”
The experience inspired Boemer (who last year won the national pig cookery contest Cochon 555 and was thusly anointed America’s King of Porc) to become the chef he is, ready to write the next chapter in his culinary life, which will be about new-school, innovative, technique-driven local barbecue, the likes of which no one has seen here before because Boemer hasn’t cooked it yet. That’s what he’ll be serving once the south Minneapolis Revival soon triples in size and the St. Paul Revival opens imminently. (Fear not—the cult fried chicken will remain.)
When I look at barbecue, I see these basic ideas: fire, whole animals, smoke. — Thomas Boemer
Believe it or not, Boemer is confident that Minnesota’s tabula rasa, our blank and barbecue-free slate, is our secret superpower. “When I look at barbecue,” he says, “I see these basic ideas: fire, whole animals, smoke. But in the South, pork is the only true barbecue. In Texas, brisket is the only barbecue. Our Cochon win was based on doing a Carolina style, but with pork jowl. That’s unheard of, but there’s no reason you can’t do it aside from that’s not how it’s done.”
If you want a future, he says, barbecue rules need to stay where they were born. Not that he’s going to be barbecuing walleye and wild rice, which he describes as truly Minnesota foods. “But for barbecue,” says Boemer, “we produce some of the best [farm] animals in the world. We can do barbecued mutton. Smoked pig tail. Kyle [Bultinck, chef de cuisine of Corner Table] has been working on a barbecued duck that is absolutely incredibly delicious.”
Some of the rule-bending Minnesota barbecue Boemer thinks we’ll soon be known for? Whole barbecued pork bellies, thick with the spice-and-smoke layer known in barbecue circles as “bark,” hogs head hash, beef-and-pork hot links based on his famous paté mixture, and, of course, pork shoulder and smoked brisket. Will Boemer bring to barbecue the frenzy of foodie adulation he has so far brought to nose-to-tail cooking and fried chicken? One thing is for sure: Never has a conversation between two little boys negotiating dinner so transformed the Twin Cities dining scene. “Would you like some barbecue?” The answer is always yes.