Former Toto lead singer finds balance in barbecue

April 14, 2024 | 12:10 am

Updated April 13, 2024 | 2:52 pm

Jean-Michel Byron’s life is about balance. The former Toto lead singer finds it in his music and food, his second greatest passion. The artist is in town this week for the Owensboro Music Business Expo, and he’s taking a level approach to enjoying what the city has to offer while visiting.

If you talk to Byron, you’ll likely discuss the latter passion because he knows that every culture eats regardless of where his travels take him.

“So I speak about food to people because we have one common denominator. Most people don’t play music, don’t act, but everybody eats,” Byron said.

As Byron walked into one of Owensboro’s staple restaurants, Old Hickory BBQ, he wouldn’t tell you that he led the band at the turn of the 1990s. Instead, he’d order a sweet tea and tell you about his time abroad while thinking about the donut he had at Gramps the day before.

“I’ve been the same person since I was 10 years old,” he said, recalling his childhood.

Similar to all walks of life, he said he didn’t just start being a musician in 1989 when he joined Toto. He believes everything people do is an art form, and that moment is when people experience yours.

For this reason, you’ll likely find more pictures of food in his camera roll than anything else, as he wants to capture the moment he experiences the creation on his plate. He believes culinary art is as impactful as music and other mediums.

Over the years, he said a subtle litmus test always appears as people pour into their art of choice. He equated it to a dish in his new home in Southern Italy: ‘Aglio, olio e peperoncino’ — which translates to garlic, oil, and hot peppers. Byron said people are supposed to grow and develop their talents, so much so that the most straightforward task should be mundane.

“So, just like if you’re a baker but can’t make great croissants, that’s the test. Music is the same; you should be able to do a simple melody if you call yourself a musician. It’s about taking the simplest elements and then elevating them together,” Byron said.

When his plate arrives, he tries each item alone first, then methodically arranges the different elements of his lunch together: topping a slice of bread with brisket, mixing his cole slaw with the BBQ beans, and his brisket dancing with his pickles.

While he admits the lunch plate was good, he didn’t rush through the meal. Instead, he opted to savor each bite.

“If you’re going to ask me a question, you’re going to have to wait at least 5 minutes,” he jokes as he spreads his newly made BBQ bean and cole slaw on his brisket.

During his time in Owensboro, Byron ventured to locally owned businesses and enjoyed the Total Solar Eclipse. Still, the moment he’d been waiting for was to try Owensboro Barbecue, so I, of course, waited the requested 5 minutes.

“I love the balance of food. There’s a lot of flavor here, so I’m trying to balance the flavors,” Byron said, going through the plate. “Barbecue is an art. It’s a science. I’ve watched documentaries on barbecue to learn more about it.”

The reason he searches for that balance, even while eating, is simple to him:

“Because that’s life. Try to get on a see-saw without anyone on it; you’ll just sit down,” he said.

In his conversation with Gramps himself, Dennis Gilmore, they recalled some of their favorite dishes while traveling. One of Byron’s favorite Owensboro dishes is a cinnamon-sprinkled donut at Gramps.

But even there, Gilmore said he remembered how Byron would slowly make his way through the fist-sized donut.

And that leads him to his grandest vacation trick: “Fake an injury to go back again or stay another day.”

He believes his last day in the States is at the end of the month, and while that day isn’t as clear, he knows that Owensboro has provided him with unique experiences as he travels with Fran Marseille.

But we know that if Byron is still in town in May, he may be limping into the doors of another flavorful Owensboro business.

“And if anybody asks, ‘Wow, you don’t seem to be injured when you’re walking into this restaurant,’ I’ll just say, ‘I don’t know what it is, but I’ll stay here,'” Byron said.

April 14, 2024 | 12:10 am

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