Maybe I was more cranky in Portland than I realized. It put me on something of a tear about how everyone's too damned busy to cook if something's going to take longer than 3 minutes, but my last morning at the IACP conference turned me around but good. This is a post to thank those enormous spirits who presided over the pigs:
Adam Sappington, Kate Hill, and Dominique Chapolard (can you guess which one he is?).
Dominique runs a farm with his wife and brothers, "seed to sausage," as they put it. Everything their pigs eat from birth to slaughter is grown on that farm. The Chapolards sell all their meat at market and make their own fresh and dry-cured sausage.
Kate Hill runs a culinary retreat in Gascony nearby. She sets up six-week butchery apprentices at the Chapolards, so that cooks can learn the waste-nothing old school French method of butchering and using the pig. I'm going. I don't know when, but I am going—life will not be complete if I don't walk where these people work and live.
We had side by side hog halves from nearby Sweet Briar Farms. Adam, chef and co-owner of Country Cat Dinner House and Bar, broke his down first. I liked how he used a big-ass cleaver and a mallet to go through bone (shoulder blade and spine to separate shoulder from and front leg from the rest of the body, American style). I also liked how he removed the belly from the ribs with skirt steak connected, which gave him an especially big cut to roll and tie.
Dominique then demoed his hog, first removing the tenderloin, then taking the back ham off, then removing the entire spine and rib cage from the animal in a way I wish I'd videoed for the elegance of his cuts. This method gave him a long, long loin that segued into the coppa, which he then separated from the loin (he would dry cure this). The other part of his technique that I really admired was the way he separated the big back ham, which in it's sheer abundance can be problematic unless you're cooking for thirty, into four beautiful boneless cuts. (The award-winning Hank Shaw goes into excellent detail here.)
Adam and Dominique took turns demonstrating how they personally handled each cut. Dominique's cuts were determined by how they sell at the market, Adam's determined by how he can sell them at his restaurant (he'll but the whole pig on single plate). People asked questions. Portland chefs had joined the group and offered their perspective and asked their questions, Vitaly Paley, of Paley's Place, and Elias Cairo, who has opened the city's first USDA approved salumeria, at Olympic Provisions, where I would have dinner that night. Everyone in the room tasted sausages Kate had smuggled in, we drank wine, we talked more about how they do it in France and how we do it here.
Three hours of intense interaction with people who truly care about this world, the earth and the animals, who care about cooking, about serving people, who do it the hard way, the long way, these grounded wonderful, big big souls. When I walked out of there, I felt as if I'd come out of a world that was impossibly good, could-never-happen good, and yet there they had been, cutting up that miracle creature raised by a farmer who sat three chairs in, the Gascon farmer-butcher, Kate, a passionate teacher, Adam, Elias, Vitaly—swear to god, I wanted to collapse right there at NW 8th and Burnside and weep. Just fall into a fetal curl and have a really good confused cry. I still can't explain it. Maybe it was just too much concentrated goodness, to full of hope, too vast for a Saturday morning so far from home.
Kate, Dominique, Adam, thank you, and, you, too, Camas Davis (top photo, at left), writer and apprentice butcher, who put it all together. Thank you.