Hugh Mangum of Mighty Quinn’s Barbecue Talks Meat, Breakfast, and Why He’s Cycling for No Kid Hungry
Hugh Mangum is not your typical barbecue pitmaster. He doesn’t have a bushy white beard, a deep Southern twang, or tree trunk-sized forearms. He’s wiry and lean five-foot-nine, but don’t let this California native fool you — he’s full of surprises.
His restaurant, Mighty Quinn’s, is relatively new to the New York City restaurant scene, but in only a few years it has become one of the city’s most gushed-over barbecue destinations and has recently been added as a vendor at Yankee Stadium. Hugh co-founded the restaurant with his step-brother Micha Magid and Micha’s brother-in-law, Christos Gourmos, after a successful season at Brooklyn’s then-new food festival, Smorgasburg. (“Successful” is an understatement — on their first day they sold out, serving a few hundred pounds of smoked meats in under 90 minutes.)
I met Mangum at Mighty Quinn’s flagship location in New York City’s East Village to discuss his upcoming participation in No Kid Hungry’s third annual Chefs Cycle. The event is a rigorous, three-day, 300-mile bike ride through Santa Rosa, California. Over 250 chefs are attempting the ride — including notables such as Top Chef season six champion Michael Voltaggio and his brother (and season six runner-up) Bryan Voltaggio, Food Network’s Duff Goldman, and New York City restaurateur Seamus Mullen — in order to raise two million dollars for No Kid Hungry, a campaign designed by national anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength, which is dedicated to ending childhood hunger in America.
I came into the interview thinking that this triple-century bike ride would be an insurmountable challenge for anyone, especially a classically trained chef who spends a lot of time in the kitchen (Mangum’s done stints at Jean-Georges and several other fine-dining institutions), but it turns out this assumption couldn’t have been any more wrong. Somehow this barbecue kingpin, husband, and attentive father of three manages to bang out 200-mile bike ride weekly, and is as serious about his cycling as he is about his brisket and pastrami. For Mangum, biking is not just exercise — it’s relief. When reminiscing about an especially difficult time in his career, Mangum talked about how he relies on riding for mental clarity saying, “The only time I wasn’t stressed, the only time I was totally present, was when I was on the bike, particularly climbing. There’s something beautiful about the suffering when you are going up a climb, that you are totally connected to that moment. Nothing else matters.”
To complete this type of training requires a disciplined diet, and despite the fact that Hugh eats barbecue almost daily (he constantly tastes the finished dishes at all Mighty Quinn’s locations) he is quite a conscious eater. He subscribes to the philosophy of food writer Michael Pollan — “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” — and follows a regimented eating routine that’s not focused on calorie counts or macronutrients, but rather on minimally processed, whole foods. Most days for breakfast Mangum eats the same thing: organic steel-cut oats, a banana, apple sauce, and almond butter. His lunch of plain Greek yogurt, fresh pineapple or berries, and homemade granola is equally rigid, and although he does eat a lot of smoked chicken, brisket, and pork shoulder over the course of the week, his dinner table is often absent of any meat. When cooking for his family, Mangum will make lentils, chickpeas, homemade pizza, salmon, and his typical Sunday meal of shakshuka — farmed- organic eggs cooked in a pan of, spicy, smoky roasted tomatoes.
Even while managing a burgeoning barbecue empire, Mangum stays humble. His passion for food, family, and giving back continues to motivate him, but he stressed that this desire to serve, nourish, and make people happy is not unique to him, but a common thread amongst all chefs. “Chefs 15 years ago were like the fringe,” he mused. “Now we’re respectable, riding for a good cause.”