Posts Tagged ‘portland’

The Whole Hog

August 5th, 2011

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My first day at the Country Cat, watching Adam Sappington butcher a whole hog, was probably one of my most memorable experiences at the restaurant.  I came in a couple hours early because I didn’t know anyone and didn’t yet know how this restaurant operated.  I was searching, even before the restaurant  had opened, for this job.  Freshly returned to Portland after ten years of loitering around the Americas I needed to recoup before I was ready for commitment.  So I lived rent free in the basement of some wonderful friends, worked at a burger joint, and rode the bus to work.  Until this opportunity surfaced.

I remembered when Wilwood opened in ’94.  I had just graduated college and was hired at the Black Rabbit at McMenamin’s Edgefield 2 months after opening.  I was 22 years old…the rest of the wait staff were well into their 30’s and very  professional. The idea to  butcher a whole hog was not yet in the culinary jargon back then…chefs were still sprinkling parsely around the rim of the plates!  These veterans had been in the restaurant business for a long time, but the idea to go back to the farm traditions was just beginning.

The knowledge that filled that resturant astounded me and soaked into my young mind.  In 1994 the Farm to Table phenomenon was new, and the thought to butcher a whole hog for a restaurant seemed a waste of resources.  This was before Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential shocked the world and restaurants were merely places to eat, not places to revere, or eventually work.

“Butcher a whole hog,” my boss says,” or turn your back on what food is about.  You have to go back to the basics and understand where your food comes from and how it gets to your plate.  Before you butcher the whole hog, you  have to understand how the animal is raised,  slaughtered,  and how it gets to your kitchen.  Good food ain’t easy.”  That last sentence sums up what humans have been diligently studying for many thousands of years: how to alter the chemical make up of food to maximize nutrition and taste.

I don’t know everything about the restaurant business, but I do know the benefits of being able to butcher a whole hog and  how to use the whole animal.  I know, from personal experience on my grandfather’s farm, that a farmer who loves his animals and treats them with respect will produce the best quality  product.  So come watch us butcher a whole hog at duckspoon.com

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A burst of epiphany

September 18th, 2009

I have had this regular guest for most of the 2 1/2 years my restaurant has been open. He’s a tad garrulous at times, overly particular about his food, and generally finds himself to be very knowledgeable. He is not overly respectful of either the back or  the front of the house. He is sometimes rude and always tips 10%.

When he came in today it was my turn in the rotation.  Actually his wife came in first and I sat her at a table by the window.  When he arrived ten or so minutes later his eyes hurt him and so he asked to move towards the back of the restaurant where it is dark.  Of course, I said, and moved the water glasses and menus over to the chosen table.

My dad once told me a story about working at the Ringside in ’71.  This fellah came in and regardless the size of the party or the bill would tip the staff $1.  My dad swore to himself that he would some day get $2.  With the correct service and real warmth, by the end of the year, the gentleman was tipping 5 bucks a dinner party.  He never went over that, but that’s not the point.

The cooks behind the line of our open kitchen bear witness to everything that happens in the room…unless, of course, they are getting their asses handed to them.  All kitchen personnel are philosophers.  They are attempting to understand our existence through the growth and preparation of the  food we eat and/or they don’t have to talk to the public.  All cooks are philosophers.

They whisper to me, over the corn grits and grilled pork, they whisper questions about the floor.

“Is that guy on 204 a total douche? Is he really paying more attention to his iphone than to his son?” or “did I really  hear chicken wing guy tell you that he could be a restaurant critic?”

See. I don’t care how decrepit the social graces or what brand of moron walks through that door.  I smile at every nitwit, jack ass, ding dong that rolls into the room…it’s the entirety of the concept that one has to embrace.  If the food is made with love then it deserves to be served with love.  Sometimes it is not received well, but then one can only produce ones best and not everyone in the world will enjoy oven smoked tomatoes with their grilled shrimp.

I busted my ass and made sure the service was genuine and Jack leaves me an astounding 12%. As he is bustling his belongings together he uses his cell phone.

“Where are we? “he asks.

“On the North side of Southeast Stark street,” is what comes to my mind.

“Don’t you know what street we are on?”

I tell him.

His brother came in for the first time about 20 minutes later and sat at the bar.  He had a martini, a two course meal with a beer, and enjoyed himself very much.  He left 20% on his bill, but that’s not really even the point.

It’s the big picture, baby…