The Shuster family food gene is active again, specifically the meat one. Torin Shuster, Pauline’s grandson (and my baby brother), recently opened Holy Smoke Barbecue and Smoke Pit in Calgary, Alberta this past spring. Already, the line is forming out the door, and the rave reviews are pouring in. The Calgary Tribune had a full page story on it today, September 5th, and the Urban Spoon is full of customer reviews – all positive. Likewise, Chowhound reviews praise the food and welcome the place into town.
For the past two years I watched and listened to Torin as he planned Holy Smoke, right down to the most minute details like the quality of the meat and the type of wood for smoking to the license plates on the wall and the fluffiness of the cornbread. He’s spent years perfecting his smoking techniques and his sauces, and attended BBQ contests across Canada and the US to learn the style and techniques. In 2009 he bought a large portable smoker, began entering BBQ contests and started the building renovations on his first Holy Smoke location. He calmly waded through the paperwork, construction, permits and headaches of converting the location into Holy Smoke, never wavering from his absolute conviction that it would be nothing other than a success.
Torin has been smoking meats for years: several years ago I was treated to smoked chicken on his BBQ at home, and it was fall off the bone tender, moist and had a delicate, rich smoky taste. Two years ago he made his brisket for a large party thrown at my dad’s house, and people still talk about it to this day.
Torin comes from a long line of meat people. His great uncle Igor Shuster (Pauline’s brother in law) was a butcher in Pivnica over 80 years ago, and as recently as the 1980’s ran Shuster’s Meat Delicatessen in Sarnia, Ontario, which Igor and his wife Mary operated for over 35 years. Torin’s brother Tyler worked in a butcher shop in Montreal in the 1980’s before becoming a lawyer, and our dad Jerry (Pauline’s son) has been smoking, curing and grinding meat for over 50 years, always making the process into a family affair. The day before my wedding, all the men in the family, including new brother in law Nick, were up to their elbows in ground meat for sausage. The meat tradition continues today, with my own teenage sons and their distant cousins from Slovakia getting in on the action, and with my relatives in Backi Petrovac and Pazova, Vojvodina making the famous Kulen sausage each year. Even Pauline’s nephew, Ronnie Milec, is working at Holy Smoke.
I recall one of the first times Torin worked in a kitchen. He was not much older than 3 years old, and it was a typical Saturday at home in Oakville. The three of us – Torin, Tyler and I – were each baking bread under the watchful eye of our dad, Jerry. We were making three different kinds – white, sour dough and rye. Torin had the rye, and he was not happy about that. As we each kneaded our individual hunks of dough, Torin questioned why his wasn’t white. When told it was because he was making a different type of bread, he exclaimed, “well then, I am going to knead it until it turns white.” He then kneaded his little heart out, and when he wasn’t looking, I secretly switched his dough for mine. Torin has obviously taken that fierce determination to a whole new level, and has parlayed his early cooking skills into a blockbuster restaurant. I’m so proud of you, little brother. I no longer need to switch the dough; you surpassed my cooking skills long ago.