Attend one of Tim Byres’ live-fire dinners or his farm-to-table feasts and you’ll witness not only people enjoying a locally sourced meal, but also their awkward silences and stiff conversations being transmuted into laughter and storytelling that they’ll remember long after the fire goes out.
Byres, a James Beard Award winner for his cookbook, “Smoke: New Firewood Cooking,” and former Food & Wine Best New Chef, has owned restaurants; cooked at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Belgium; and been a culinary ambassador for the American Chef Corp. He isn’t just an experienced pitmaster—you can find plenty of people who claim that fame in Texas—he’s a live firewood cooking expert who has traveled to places like Chile, Haiti, China, and Antarctica demonstrating his cooking techniques.
During his travels, Byres saw dining as an opportunity for a shared human experience that has inspired him to move beyond the standard idea of chef by putting people in a place beyond a restaurant setting and creating an immersive experience bigger than just food as the focus. At a time when more groups are looking for authentic experiences and bleisure travel is taking the forefront in meeting planning, Byres’ events are not only inspiring but also relevant to companies that are ready to create connection. During these gatherings, he tells a narrative through the location, local community, and natural resources used in a meal. “The storytelling part is the biggest part for me. It’s the creative part,” he says. “It’s tapping into emotions and memory-making—not just food.”
These group events are curated, specific, and intentional. Tables of eight encourage what Byres calls the perfect amount of interaction, and family-style plates require people to literally lend each other a hand. Acoustic music in a 360-degree scenic outdoor location provides the backdrop for Byres’ cooking over a fire for all to see—a transparency he hopes extends to guests. “My mission is to lessen the growing distance between people by bringing them together at a shared table with childlike wonder.” He hopes to open a permanent place for this experience, making it even more interactive. “Nourishment does not just come from a meal, but by bringing people together with the understanding of how important and powerful the shared table is as an equalizer and a tool for connecting humanity.”