Everyone wants to know how David Carter went from working front of house at some of Gordon Ramsay’s shiniest restaurants to running the edgiest barbeque restaurant in London. Even five years on from opening Smokestakand nearly a decade after he first started selling those highly-prized brisket buns at festivals all over the United Kingdom, the same question follows him.

Before his Shoreditch restaurant gathered a cult following from those who worship low and slow-cooked meat, Carter grew up in the Caribbean, studied hospitality and tourism in Toronto before beginning his career at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles.

The Barbadian moved across the pond when he landed an assistant manager role at Claridge’s and has made London his home ever since. He wasn’t looking to leave America, but with his visa about to expire in California, Carter flew across the country to meet with world-famous chefs Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Daniel Boulud and Ramsay. None of them could offer him work and sponsorship in New York, but Ramsay opened up a spot for him in London. The rest, as they say, is history.

Carter went from Claridge’s to The Savoy Grill to Roka, plotting each move with one eye on the bigger picture. He wanted to run his own restaurant, he just needed to figure out what it would be. He knew it would involve fire and cooking over a grill, but he didn’t realise it would be a world apart from the fine dining universe he cut his teeth in.

Inside Smokestak in Shoreditch.

“I get asked that question from friends all the time: How the hell did you go from Gordon Ramsay to this? You look back at the roots of where you grow up – like you being from Australia, you might want to go and do a café one day because that’s in your DNA – doing a BBQ restaurant was always in my DNA,” Carter told Man of Style over the phone ahead of a dinner service at Smokestak.

“This menu is inspired from Barbados and Texas, of course, but it is very London at the same time because we are inspired by the environment around us. This restaurant would be so out of place in Texas or most places in the States, just because of the style of it. For me, that’s not a bad thing at all because it’s a restaurant for Londoners. It just feels more like my personality.

“In a place like Ramsay I was serving people who are my parents’ generation and people twice my age and some serious, serious big hitters and very affluent people, whereas Smokestak is about anyone from mid-20s to mid-40s; they might book, they might not. We try and make it very accessible from a price point and from what we put on the menu. Everything is designed to be quite chilled and quite relaxed, even though there is a bit of seriousness that goes on behind the scenes.”

Thick cut pork ribs and pickled cucumber.

The original plan was to open a brick-and-mortar store in the Brixton Market. But after a whirlwind run at festivals and on the streets of London, that plan was scrunched up and torched. Street food had been all the rage for some time in the early part of last decade, but this type of barbeque hadn’t been done anywhere near as well in this neck of the woods.

Still, not many saw Carter’s next move coming. He went all-in on the Sclater Street site, which is just around the corner from Brick Lane. There is rustic, and then there is Smokestak, a place where serious meat-eaters travel from all over London to enjoy.

The good stuff at Smokestak.

“The idea was always to go into a restaurant. People were like I can’t believe you left restaurants to do street food. The plan was always to go back into this. Street food was the way to build a brand and test your products first, build some capital and some momentum and then fine-tune the product to some extent. It hit all those targets for us and then we grew it into this working machine,” he said.

“People ask why did I join the industry? It’s quite simple: I love to eat. There is a lot of reasons, but that’s the number one reason. One of the things we really focus on here is how to create an experience. That sounds like a bit of a wank, but I think when you walk into a restaurant the vibe is important, the smell is important, the music – everything – there are so many things to contribute to the actual experience. We spend a lot of time at Smokestak focusing on that.”

If you’re a barbeque aficionado, then you know Texas is the epicentre of this universe. Austin’s Franklin Barbeque is world-renowned. So is Snow’s BBQ in Lexington. It’s not hard to see the influence of the Lone Star state on Carter and Smokestak. The first off-set smoker he bought was a seven-metre-long, four and a half tonne option from Texas, a place where he has visited more times than he can remember, eating, learning and meeting with experts from a variety of fields.

The famous brisket bun at Smokestak.

Carter returns to Texas every year to explore restaurants he hasn’t tried before and to meet with barbeque manufactures to fine-tune Smokestak’s approach to barbeque. But without a simple, yet magnificent, brisket bun, none of this would be possible.

“How has the brisket bun launched our career? You know, that’s a good question. It definitely has. For me, a brilliant dish is simple. But more than simple, it needs to be better than the sum of its parts. The brisket bun, for example, is obviously a bun, the brisket, the barbeque sauce, chillies, and that’s it. There is no magic formula; there is no sous-vide; there is no bullshit,” he said.

“It is the perfect combination of texture first and foremost. Whenever you cook barbeque – slow-smoked stuff – you’re changing the flavour and the texture by cooking it for something for a long time. The buns are from a Chinese bakery, we don’t know what they put in them, but we think it’s milk powder, loads of butter; it’s a very soft American bun. The chillies are heat, vinegar and sugar, so you’ve got three contrasting things straight away.

“It is just one of those things. It’s a pure fluke in hindsight; it was never one of those things that was masterminded. It was very much something we wanted to give a shot and see how it could work out. It’s not the most popular dish in the world, but I don’t think we could create something that is more balanced and better here. The buns are absolutely incredible. The bakery is a big part of it.”

Inside David Carter’s restaurant Smokestak.

Smokestak is approached up to ten times a year to open outposts in Saudi Arabia or Dubai, but while they are out of the question, Carter pictures one or two more in the future. Although there is one catch.

“I’m sure I will do another Smokestak one day,” he says, “but I want to make sure it is sufficiently different – sufficiently better. I’d want it to be bigger and offer something different. I don’t want to do it for a dollar bill because creativity is a big factor for me.

“I also learnt from doing so many festivals the power of saying no. I know that sounds stupid, but one year we did 13 festivals and we did better than when we did 25 and we were a lot happier and less stretched. People are expanding for the wrong reasons in London right now and you dilute your brand, dilute your integrity, dilute what you’re proud of doing.

“If we grew too fast it wouldn’t be right. But that being said, we look at sites every so often, so we do entertain it. but I would never franchise ever, ever, ever, because I want full control. My brand means a lot to me than a dollar bill. I cannot ever see us being more than two or three and all of them would be sufficiently different.”

Carter has plenty to ponder when it comes to expansion. He is also involved in contemporary, nose-to-tail restaurant Manteca, which is in the process of relocating from Soho to Shoreditch, just around the corner from Smokestak. But for now, there is only one Smokestak. And it is the clear standout when it comes to barbeque in London.