Saturday, January 10, 2015

One Steer at a Time: A new approach to serving meat at Black Trumpet

Over the years at Black Trumpet, we have worked with whole animals whenever possible.  There are a few good reasons why we do this.  When we receive a whole animal—whether it is a pig, a goat, a lamb or a goose (to name just a few beasts we adore)—our kitchen staff learns not only where the cuts of meat we work with come from on the animal, but also the story behind the animal itself.   When the animal makes a transition from the farmer’s hands to ours, an important trust is passed along as well.  For the farmer, who has known the animal often from birth, he is transferring his pride in the quality of his product to the chef, and the chef in turn will pass that pride on to the restaurant staff and customers.  In a recent panel on the future of food, uber-celebrity Mario Batali said that “when we look at all the problems we have in the American farming system,…the largest issue I can understand is waste.” Whole animal utilization is an excellent way for chefs to see how much potential there is for waste with every animal that is slaughtered for our consumption.

I believe that it is an important part of a chef’s job to understand his or her ingredients from their source to the final plate presentation.  When it comes to meat, this means visiting farm animals and seeing first-hand the pastures (hopefully) where they graze and the conditions in which they live.  It also means witnessing the slaughter, because if a chef can’t handle the sacred conversion from live animal to human food, I believe that chef has no business serving meat on their menu.  I realize this is a kind of crazy thing to say, but I mean it with every ounce of my chef soul.  To me, the key to being civilized is not hands-free ivory tower affluence, but rather recognizing every step in the chain of provisioning that leads to our great fortune.  I also believe that “those who have” possess a moral obligation to provide in some way for “those who do not.”  By educating each other about the profligate amount of waste in our food system, we can start to figure out where we can address this issue, ultimately providing locally-sourced sustenance for ALL of us in every community.

The whole animals we butcher and serve at Black Trumpet have historically been augmentations to our regular menu, because—although we have always worked with farm aggregators like Dole & Bailey and Archer Angus to ensure that we are using local cuts of meat that are being overlooked in their program—it is ultimately a disservice to our local agricultural system to buy any single cut of animal in abundance, because it leaves it up to the aggregator to sell the remaining parts of the animal, and there is no guarantee that will happen.

For thousands of years, humans have worked with the whole animal, and in today’s America, we are beginning to see a return to charcuterie and preservation techniques that make whole animal utilization both creative and possible.  With each new animal that lands on the Black Trumpet butcher’s bench, I look forward to exploring new ways of working with meat that will highlight the deliciousness of terroir while paying homage to a life that has been sacrificed so that we can nourish ourselves. 

Starting on January 16th, we will feature on the Black Trumpet menu a dish that will bear the name of a single animal, the various meats of which will rotate (as dictated by sales) through all the cuts we have created until, after approximately six weeks, the animal will have been consumed.  If this project is successful, we hope to continue this One Steer at a Time program through the winter into spring. 

Here are the details about our first animal:

Although the Scottish Highland steer named George belonged to Carole Soule of Miles Smith Farm in Loudon, NH, he was born and raised on the northernmost edge of Great Bay, in meadows owned by Emery Farm.  He was just under 900 pounds live weight and was pastured and grassfed for the entirety of his life.  It is uncommon to find this breed, so when I met Carole Soule and her herd at our Farm-a-Q event last summer, I began to think about how a single animal beef program could work at Black Trumpet.  We have a few glitches to work out, but I am so excited to embark on this project with Carole and her delicious cattle!

Evan Mallett
Black Trumpet

January 9, 2015


Unknown said...

This is a much more thoughtful, respectful, appreciative, grateful and sustainable way to think about the food we consume. Good for you and for Black Trumpet. I will check the blog regularly for the new entries regarding this!

Unknown said...

Really nicely said and an even nicer program to implement. I think we all with you the best of luck with it, as we will all benefit!

megstring said...

I really appreciate this thoughtfulness. I choose not to eat meat because I cannot bring myself to witness the sacred transition that you mention, and for me, that would be a responsible part of being a meat eater. (Not so for others, and that is OK). It is wonderful to hear a chef write this as well. Congratulations on being so mindful of the waste in the food system, and for honoring the animal.

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Robin in Portsmouth said...

I am impressed with every aspect of the Black Trumpet, not only the quality of the food and service, but the care for food producers and animals. Would Evan like to speak at a July 8th forum about women and the economy in NH? Employees are also important in the ecosystem, and I know that you are a member of High Road Restaurants. We are looking for a voice from the restaurant industry. - Robin Schnell, Portsmouth.