We’ve seen the Is it local? episode on Portlandia, and laughed at its ridiculousness. And we’ve seen the heirloom tomatoes at the farmers market with all of their charismatic bumps and scabs as we balk at the price tag. On menus we have read Red Fife wheat, or Berkshire Pork in an item’s ostentatious description. But why should we care?
Posted in Agriculture, Food Politics
Tagged animal husbandry, bacon, biodiversity, endangered species, English Black, Large Black, pig, pork, rare breed, slow food ark of taste, Vancouver Island
The Sublime Martini by Belvedere and Brassaii
I was invited last night to attend the re-opening party at Brassaii by an acquaintance who swings in very different circles. I had honestly never heard of this HUGE restaurant/lounge tucked behind Crush on King St. just West of Spadina. It was a cavernous, artfully lit space, full of the VIP guest-listed and Media reps. Quite beautiful. There was a lot of milling about, drinking martinis and commenting on one another’s fur vests, but not a whole heck of a lot of food. I toted a Sublime Martini written on the menu as featuring Belvedere Vodka (sponsor for the evening), stirred (actually shaken) with fresh pressed grapefruit juice and a wisp of Jasmine syrup (undetectable), sprinkled with wild blueberries (not wild, but cultivated).
With Bruce Woods (not to be confused with Bruce Wood of Salt Spring Island, yeah, that’s what I thought too. Too bad.) at the helm in the kitchen, and all of the advertising about him, I was hoping to sample some of the new menu. I got to try two tiny hors d’oeuvres – one a “Duck prosciutto + balsamic fig chutney + mascarpone cheese” garnished with a little green sprout; the second was a spoonful of tuna tartar “avocado + tropical fruits + wasabi mayo + crispy wonton”. Neither were any good, the avocado-tuna number sat like an ugly, colourless glob in a ceramic spoon and felt like guacamole mush, with no indication of tuna on the palate. The duck prosciutto looked pretty, but basically tasted like the toasted baguette upon which it sat. All in all, I was just confused about the idea behind gathering the influential people of that scene this place is catering to, but not actually putting their best foot forward. Maybe those were their best feet. Apparently this place has a wicked patio in the summer though, and I’ve heard great things about the Triple S Lunch, and weekend brunch, which ranges from $8-19 for an early meal on Saturdays and Sundays. If anyone would care to take me there for brunch, I’d be happy to give this place a second chance. The menu doesn’t make a concerted effort to use or promote local eating, so it’s not at the top of my list.
What was much more interesting last night, however, was the menu at Buca. Featuring Whey-Fed Pork, ricotta di bufala from Stirling, ON, and other house-made cured meats and sausages in “The Room”. We stopped by there for a quick drink before heading down the street to Brassaii. I had a quick chat with Peter Tsebelis and Chef Roberto Gentile, who were very open to and enthusiastic about answering my nit picky questions about suppliers and the interesting, local ingredients on the dinner menu. I definitely look forward to someone offering to take me there for dinner, hint hint…
I don’t generally find myself in the company of great chefs, nor do I find myself in the company of freshly slaughtered animals, but I got the chance this weekend to hang out with Dan DeMatteis and a 6 week old Berkshire/Hampshire cross from Cameron Reeds delivered to the city by Mark Trealout of Kawartha Ecological Growers. As I have decided 2010 is the year of “NEW”, any opportunity to learn is a priority. This particular learning curve was way out of my comfort zone, though. When I was about 6, my family holidayed at a bed and breakfast to discover what life is like on a working farm. We rode on tractors, cuddled with lambs, bailed hay, and went on field trips to visit the neighbours. After checking out a major chicken operation supplying the likes of KFC and Swiss Chalet, I had the fear in me of humanity and of animal husbandry due to a sealed garbage bag at the door that was still clucking. Next stop was the alcoholic pig farmer just down the road, where my heart became hardened seeing a tiny little piglet discarded on a pile of shit in the corner of the barn. The sow had just had a litter of the most perfect little pink piglets some of which sported black spots. There was one runt in the litter that I noticed couldn’t wrestle her way to a teet and was much smaller than the rest of her brothers and sisters. I just couldn’t let her end up like the other guy thrown haphazardly onto the pile, and desperately pleaded with my mom and the farmer that we were staying with to take her back with us. I’m not sure why they agreed, but after administering a healthy dose of iron filings force fed on a stick by the sketchy pig farmer, we coddled her in a blanket and I held her close all the way back to the farm. We named her Celeste, and made her a nice cozy spot in the basement by the dryer where she could be kept warm under a heat lamp. We fed her by bottle and made sure not to leave her side for the rest of our time there. Henry and Lorraine graciously agreed to keep her at their farm and raise her there as we did our research and realized we could not take her back to the Annex. I was devastated to leave her there, but knew that Celeste would be well taken care of. We visited her a couple of times, and my father was always blown away by the fact that she seemed to recognize our voices, even after weeks of not seeing her. One day, I was told that Celeste was no longer… that she had been sold, and was most likely bacon. Again, devastation. I didn’t understand, and I certainly didn’t know that her fate had always been that of the abattoir. So, from that point onwards, I didn’t knowingly eat pork. Until one day in May 2009 when the induction of the Tamworth breed into the Slow Food Arc of Taste inspired me to celebrate pigs, and give it a try. The obvious next step was to actually face my fear of animal carcass and get my own hands dirty in honour of my sweet Celeste. And so, I share with you my experience here.
Saturday afternoon at Queen and Spadina, bustling through the crowded streets, all dressed up to attend a wedding later in the day, to get to Dan’s place in time to watch it all go down.
Dan and Le Cochon
Zara and Le Cochon
The pig came gutless and clean as a whistle. Very little blood and gore, which was a good thing at this stage as I would have probably hurled otherwise. One step at a time. Dan masterfully cut away the flesh from the bone and showed me how to efficiently and carefully butcher the meat so that nothing was wasted. He is preparing every part of the pig in a number of different ways for a reunion dinner party. We poked around, figured things out as we went along, and triumphantly ended up with cuts of meat that even the most discerning consumer would gladly purchase in the finest of butcher shops! I was grossed out and thrilled all at the same time, making sure not to get too carried away by all of the excitement. Unfortunately I ran out of time and had to leave before the whole pig was portioned, but got a good sense of how it works and can’t wait to be there for the next big project! Check out a graphic VIDEO of the event! Thanks Dan!!!