COLUMBIA — One night at Five Point’s Baan Sawan, Scott Hall walked in and told his friend and occasional culinary collaborator Sam Suaudom about some Brussel sprouts he had recently eaten from another restaurant.
They were, in Hall's estimation, clearly frozen before they were served, Suaudom, the general manager and co-owner of the fine-dining Thai destination, said.
“He was of the mind that it's not difficult to offer Brussel sprouts so they taste the way they should,” Suaudom recalled. “That kind of expectation of other people he held to himself, and even to a higher standard.”
Hall’s high standards — and his other characteristics — were starkly on display at his first restaurant, Bone-In Barbecue, which resided next to Segra Park in the BullStreet District. That’s where most last saw Hall, in the pre-pandemic world.
Emerging from COVID-19 quarantine and the restaurant’s closure, Hall has returned to work, cooking as a caterer for weddings at his family’s former venue, the Corley Mill House in Lexington (where he remains the in-house caterer) and for order-a-day-ahead takeout barbecue.
Bone-In, which shuttered in February, continued his culinary approach from his prior food truck. That is it did what is a near crime in Columbia — change the way barbecue, the thing many consider a near perfected art, is approached. He eschewed the whole-hog, open-pit style and instead brought in exact science.
Hall utilized a chamber cooker, where he was able to meticulously control virtually every factor that goes into his barbecue, from the humidity to temperature to smoke.
“I've been in food for 20 plus years, but I've never seen people that have such dogmatic, unbending sort of ideology,” Hall said. “Which is cool, I'm excited that people are into technique … but it seemed almost arbitrary.
“I got into so many fights with people about the actual smoking of barbecue.”
His individuality was evident beyond the actual cooking style. A pulled pork sandwich didn’t come with a hamburger bun; it came on focaccia, the dense Italian-style bread.
One could argue that Hall’s blatant disregard of Midland’s barbecue ideology was blasphemy. Indeed, Bone-In, the first restaurant at the much-heralded BullStreet development, closed after two years, but Hall doesn’t attribute that to his cooking.
“There’s a billion and one reasons,” Hall offered. “I’m a far better cook than I am a business person and I think that had a vast majority to do with it. I like to do, I kind of have this sort of way of life that it's not done until it's overdone.”
Hall’s food didn’t fit the area’s eating habits, Suaudom suggested.
“I think the way he has had an impact on the Columbia barbecue scene at large is like having had a really unexpected and genuine kiss, it's like, ‘That was amazing,’” he said. “But in general people don’t expect that in this Tinder age. The repetitiveness and availability is more important than the earnestness.”
He reasoned his recent return return to non-daily restaurant work suited him.
"Seeing people every day, that was great," Hall shared. "Running a restaurant on the same hand is a really ... life-sucking thing, it requires every ounce of you. Even when you put in everything it is still a risky, terrible investment."
Now, back in catering, he is able to tap into his background — he is a New York City theater school graduate with a penchant for putting on elaborate culinary events — and his desire to have things be “overdone.”
“When you try to do things a la carte … there’s all these pesky little numbers that get in the way,” he said.
Despite Hall’s push toward a non-typical style of barbecue, his cooking is still respectful of the traditions. It also manages to incorporate whimsy and playful elements, Suaudom said. As an example, he pointed toward a brunch dish, where Hall put brisket, pork belly and collard greens on a waffle.
“He’s very respectful of where he is coming from culturally and bringing a lot of those sorts of dishes that we might of grown up with here and giving it more gravitas,” Suaudom explained.
In Hall’s 30s, roughly 12 years ago, he found himself burned out on the expensive lifestyle in New York City. In the years after graduating theater school there, he worked in restaurants to pay bills and later founded a catering company there with his culinary mentor, but turned back towards his roots in the Midlands.
He returned to the state and opened his food truck, also called Bone-In Barbecue. At that time, the local food truck scene was in its infancy and he looked to carve out a niche. He landed on barbecue.
He regarded most of the barbecue available as similar and posited one may not be able to tell them apart in a blind taste test.
“What we wanted to do is take this world and turn it up on its head,” Hall said.
Then came the meticulous focus of his barbecue — the focaccia bread, housemade sauces and a emphasis focus on serving well-crafted sides. The result was a quick hit, with Hall and his truck receiving local acclaim and recognition on culinary television channels.
“We got some really strong reactions, negatively and positively,” he said. “We got lots of really angry and passionate replies. That kind of just fueled me more to try experimenting with the art form of southern barbecue.”
Now, back in his element as a caterer, he said he’s been lucky to receive regular work as Corley Mill House’s in-house caterer, although he reported the venue's doing about a fifth of normal sales. He’s channeled his detail-oriented disposition figuring out how to cater large gatherings in a safe manner.
Whenever the pandemic ends, he’s ready to get back to his theater roots and put on events, as he did at Bone-In with things like drag brunches and raucous karaoke nights. He teased that he already has a new event in the planning stages.
As for ever running another restaurant? He joked that he’s not the “smartest guy” and that anything is possible.
“I would think long and hard about taking intention and effort away from the catering I do for a brick-and-mortar project,” he concluded. “I feel like it would take something extraordinary and special to make me pull away.”