Looking ‘Behind the Smoke’


Shawn Walchef of Cali Comfort BBQ and Derek Marso of Valley Farm Market are the duo behind Behind the Smoke Media, a barbecue-centric podcast and small business resource for people in the greater San Diego area.

Since officially launching in 2017, the pair have interviewed plenty of barbecue powerhouses: the folks at Iron Pig Alehouse, The Heart and Trotter, The Smok’d Hog, just to name a few. But they’ve also sat down with the brewer at Alpine Beer Company, soccer star Landon Donovan and even Brian Smith, the founder of UGG. (Yes, those UGGs.)

When asked if Walchef thinks Behind the Smoke Media is a small business podcast with an emphasis on barbecue, or the other way around, he agreed that barbecue remains the main spark, but they make it a point to discuss numerous other subjects. He explained that this approach to topic diversity is crucial in order to reach a bigger audience.

“For us, it was important to have a podcast that wasn’t just barbecue focused, so every week we weren’t talking about smokers or brisket or ribs,” Walchef said. “We could celebrate barbecue along the way, but really talk more about stuff that we’ve learned about the messy side of running a business — stuff that wasn’t taught to us in school.”

And they’ve had their fair share of ups and downs in business. Walchef opened California Comfort Restaurant in 2008 — possibly the worst time to do so.

“2008 was a tough year to open up a business,” Walchef laughed. “A lot of my friends who are successful were questioning my desire to spend money.”

But as someone who’d grown up working in the East County restaurant industry with his family, he saw an untapped opportunity in Spring Valley, where affordable but high-quality eateries were in short supply.

Eventually, this experience led to his first foray into the world of serious barbecue competitions: Smoking in the Park at Viejas Casino & Resort.

“We were out of our league,” Walchef commented wryly.

But the barbecue bug had already bitten. He and his restaurant business partner Corey Robinson decided to throw their own amateur barbecue contest to help raise money for local Little League and Pop Warner teams. In 2010, he officially changed the name of his restaurant to Cali Comfort BBQ and updated the concept to focus on the “low and slow” way of cooking meat.

Over time, Walchef realized that in order to let more people know about what was cooking in Spring Valley, he needed to step up digital advertising through social media, email campaigns, and finally, launching the podcast with Marso.

“We’ve been able to reach so many different types of subcultures,” explains Walchef. “Barbecue is about education. It’s about the experience and telling a story.”

He lists local restaurateur David Cohn (Cohn Restaurant Group) and entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk (VaynerMedia and VaynerX) as guests they’d love to have on the show one day, but admits there are too many on his wish list to name them all.

“So many amazing people in San Diego are doing amazing things that we care about,” Walchef said. “I have never been more excited for barbecue — not just in San Diego, but on the West Coast.”

Tune into Behind the Smoke: BBQ War Stories on your favorite podcast app.

Upcoming San Diego bbq event


When: Sunday, June 9

Where: Otay Ranch Shopping Center