Chef Bill Espiricueta jumped from the gourmet frying pan into the SMŌK (wood-smoked) fire

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When trying to decide where to dine, sushi and barbecue are pretty much poles apart on the food compass.

Still, SMŌK’s chef, Bill Espiricueta, puts his years of high-end culinary experience to good use in his business offering Kansas City-style barbecue and all the trimmings so beloved by the genre.

You could say that Espiricueta, who was born in Austin, Texas, and moved to Kansas City when he was 11, was weaned at an old-fashioned barbecue.

“I never intended to barbecue, but I missed it in the Colorado market. Growing up in Kansas City, we ate it several times a week, but I couldn’t find any place that reminded me of home — it didn’t have that KC quality,” Espiricueta said.

He began his career path right out of high school, attending a small community college culinary program that Espiricueta described as less classroom-focused and more learning through mentorship programs with students placed in restaurants in town.

A selection of Kansas City-style smoked meats, fish and sides at SMŌK at its Fort Collins location at Foothills Mall, which opened in 2021. Chef Bill Espiricueta brings years of high-end culinary experience serving this company that prides itself on consistency and creativity. (Photo credit Emily Kemme)

For twelve years he worked for the best chefs he could. It started at Bluestem restaurant in Kansas City and made a stint in Chicago before landing in Dallas at Nobu, one of the Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurants in the legendary pearl necklace owned by celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa and his partners. commercials, including Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro.

Espiricueta spent five years as a chef at Nobu; he says it was there that he learned the importance of consistency and attention to detail.

“Nobu aimed to use the best ingredients you could get your hands on and they put a lot of emphasis on production to make sure all the sauces were executed the same way, every day,” he said. . “Maintaining that with volume is hard to do if you’re not trained properly.”

He took a break from cooking for eight months, opening a specialty meat business in Dallas. By 2012 he had moved to Boulder and researched every restaurant on Pearl Street looking for the perfect fit.

He found that at Oak at Fourteenth, where he eventually rose to executive sous chef, working closely with chef-partner Steve Redzikowski for seven years, allowing him to focus on local food in a laid-back atmosphere. . Through restaurant group Half Eaten Cookie Hospitality, which also owns Oak, Espiricueta also opened Acorn at The Source in RiNo.

But barbecue kept calling and it launched popups at Oak that got great feedback. These sparked the original idea but did not satisfy the feeling of home.

“For me, when I come home to KC, there are places like Gates Bar-BQ, it’s nostalgic for me. It’s not the best places to barbecue that you see in the media. It’s been there for 100 years and the smoke seeps into the wooden planks of the building,” he recalls.

Espiricueta opened its first SMŌK at La Source in 2017.

Chef Bill Espiricueta admits he's on a mission to be part of building Colorado's barbecue culture.  One aspect of that at SMŌK is educating guests about the ways and whys of Kansas City barbecue.  (Photo credit Emily Kemme)
Chef Bill Espiricueta admits he’s on a mission to be part of building Colorado’s barbecue culture. One aspect of that at SMŌK is educating guests about the ways and whys of Kansas City barbecue. (Photo credit Emily Kemme)

Espiricueta found that customers in Colorado needed a lot of information about barbecue culture: how to order, why there’s bark, what’s a burnt end? the firm texture of the ribs does not mean that they are overcooked.

In this, he said he wanted to be part of building Colorado’s barbecue culture.

Espiricueta smokes meats in a Southern Pride rotisserie smoker, using mostly red and white oak because the wood is harder, burns longer, and adds good flavor penetration that isn’t overpowering.

Gastronomic training is implemented at SMŌK by ensuring that the meats and sides are the same every time – he wants people to be able to rely on this consistency.

Much of the chef’s logistics go into creating accompaniments, especially ensuring that a dish balances acidity, hot and cold elements.

You’ll see that come into play in Creamed Corn, which Espiricueta says derives from his Mexican background, particularly from the days he spent in Austin before his family moved to Kansas.

Similar to elote – corn on the cob from Mexican street vendors drizzled with cream and topped with chili powder and lime – SMŌK serves creamed corn topped with lime juice, zest, cotija cheese and drizzle. a pinch of chili powder.

SMŌK Coleslaw is ginger-focused and not mayonnaise-based. Rice vinegar and salt draw on Nobu’s Asian influences, complementing the flavorful smoke of grilled meats.

“The sweet, cold crunch of the coleslaw, it’s a surprisingly fresh addition,” Espiricueta said.

SMŌK is a counter-service barbecue restaurant featuring Kansas City-style barbecue.  (Photo credit Emily Kemme)
SMŌK is a counter-service barbecue restaurant featuring Kansas City-style barbecue. (Photo credit Emily Kemme)

You’ll also feel the logistics involved in creating the structured layers of SMOK’s Roasted Hatch Chili Pinto Beans and must-try Banana Pudding, a cup of vanilla pudding sprinkled with banana chunks, topped with a Nilla Wafer and sprayed with whipped cream.

“It’s all about the components, like in fine dining, and they add up to create something really great. It’s that chef side of things that’s unconscious to me, I’m always adjusting and tweaking,” Espiricueta said. “There are quite a few moving parts, but that’s what sets SMŌK apart.”


Go find SMOK (BBQ!):

Pitches: Fort Collins – 327 E. Foothills Pkwy, Unit 110 | RiNo Denver at The Source – 3330 Brighton Blvd #202 | Junction Food & Drink – 2000 S. Colorado Blvd., Bld. IV, Denver

Hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday to Thursday | 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Contact: SMOOK

Newsworthy: Counter service | No reservations accepted | Catering & Events | Craft smoked cocktails and beer | Food and drinks Happy Hour

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