Article by Travis Lindblad with photography by Fitz
Lead photo of Chef and Pitmaster Forrest Warren
When it comes to O.G., badass, punk as fuck, real deal chefs look no further than Chef Forrest Warren of Smoke BBQ in Newport News. The fact that he’s in Newport News means a large part of y’all have never even heard of him, and that’s just fine with Forrest and the locals. Three years ago I moved to Newport News and was immediately told about Smoke BBQ restaurant, a legitimate barbecue spot that was (and in my opinion still is) not only the best on the peninsula, but the best in Hampton Roads. Yes, I know damn good and well the claim I just made, and I stick by it. From that first time eating at Smoke, if I was talking barbecue, I was talking about Smoke and Forrest Warrens’ barbecue. The man consistently makes great barbecue for the shitload of customers that fill, empty, and refill again the 200 seat restaurant owned by Steve and Kathy Walters. Oh and barbecue isn’t all he does; if you think this pitmaster is a one trick pony, you’re about to get an education.
Forrest started where a lot do and that’s in fast food; after a gnarly accident put Forrest out of commission for a while, he started working in a Navy galley (via a civilian contract) as a dish dog, and as Forrest said, “being a dish dog on a Navy base is a mother fucker,” but that’s where Forrest learned a lot about cooking and sanitation. Cutting his teeth in a Navy galley and working with those kind of numbers definitely stuck with Forrest throughout his career. It has helped him with the large numbers he does in not only the restaurant, but with catering, as well as the events he does with Smoke’s fully operational barbecue truck that is at just about every large event on the peninsula.
After a few gigs cooking in local bars and restaurants, Forrest said he, “started to get serious about cooking when [he] felt like [he] was good and started working in better restaurants.” Forrest decided to jump into the country club scene, and by jump I mean career changing leap, and landed a gig at Ford’s Colony Country Club as the head production chef for an old school bad-ass local chef, David Everett. If you don’t know who David Everett is, you should probably stop what you’re doing, do some quick research and come back.
But I digress; that production chef gig is where Forrest got his classical training to include how to make demis, stocks, and charcuterie from scratch, and quantities for two restaurants. With his nose to the grind, he worked his way up from the pantry to the line and like any great young cook, he was soaking up knowledge the whole time.
After four years at Ford’s Colony, Forrest decided to leave when Dave Everett did and landed a gig as Sydney Meers’ sous chef at Cowboy Syd’s. He was there for a year and learned to work with chocolate and to make bread. Forrest said “Syd’s homemade crackers were better than the cheeses they went with.”
After Cowboy Syd’s, Forrest caught back up with Chef Everett shortly after he opened Blue Talon Bistro in Williamsburg. During his almost four years at Blue Talon he was Chef Everett’s sous chef, saying that “working there sealed the deal on my love for the old school ways.” After Blue Talon, he tried his hand at corporate and fucking hated it, and then worked a couple places, to include County Grill, where he managed the kitchen.
Feeling the need for a “break”, Forrest left County Grill to just be a line cook, and that’s the gig he landed at Smoke, right before the head chef promoted Forrest to be his sous chef, and less than a year later, the owners promoted Forrest to head chef and pitmaster, and for the past five years he’s been killing the barbecue game. Forrest will tell you his boy Tasso is his right hand man, and says, “Smoke wouldn’t be the same without Tasso.”
Forrest and Tasso not only make barbecue for the restaurant, but they do a crazy amount of catering out of there; if there is a big event in Newport News, you can bet that the Smoke truck will be there serving up the same great tasting barbecue. The amount of meat that is smoked at that restaurant is insane, and the amount of great food going out of that kitchen is even crazier.
Oh yeah…now Forrest gets to try his hand at pizzas with the addition of a new brick pizza oven at Smoke. The man doesn’t stop, and I can guarantee that he will produce a pizza of equal quality as his barbecue. Now that you’ve been introduced to Forrest Warren, get off your ass and make the trip to Newport News to check him out.
For more on Smoke and Forrest Warren visit them online HERE
Smoke BBQ Restaurant and Bar is located at 10900 Warwick Blvd Newport News, Virginia