It’s no secret that diners are becoming more and more preoccupied with what’s on their plates. Where does it come from? How was it made? And the newest question: when, how, and where was it slaughtered?
The source of meat -- just like fruits and vegetables -- has long been on the minds of discerning diners, but particularly with quality meats, there are more things to consider than source and more steps that decide what the final product will resemble in terms of sustainability, eco-consciousness, and, of course, taste. Many chefs are paying attention to every detail of meat sourcing today; here are three in North America who are taking a particularly interesting hands-on approach to quality meats.
Hooni Kim: Bumping up the Expiration Date of Slaughtered Chicken
Korean-American chef Hooni Kim runs Danji, a Korean-Japanese tapas-style restaurant on Manhattan’s west side offering a varied menu of on-trend Korean inspired fare, including buckwheat noodles, scallion pancakes, kimchi made by Mr. Kim’s mother-in-law and Korean-style fried chicken wings. It’s the latter that has Kim taking measures to ensure top quality chicken, in this case requiring that slaughtered chicken must be served the day it’s killed, a technique that he gleaned from markets in Korea, where chicken is always sold the day it's slaughtered. His chicken is raised in Pennsylvania, butchered in Brooklyn, served in Manhattan.
At his second restaurant, Hanjan, in the Flatiron district, Kim continues this desire to use quality products including “meat raised with no antibiotics or growth hormones.” As the restaurants site explains, “No doubt these ingredients cost more, but we believe the food we consume should be healthy and responsible as well as delicious.”
Marc Cohen: Head, Tail, and Everything in Between
Head-to-tail has become commonplace as far as phrasing, but if you really want to sample all portions of an animal prepared to their best advantage, Marc Cohen’s Montreal restaurant Lawrence is the place to go. Upon his arrival in Montreal, the English chef made connections with local producers who really cared about what they were doing to ensure that Cohen’s food philosophy was carried out to a T.
It’s clear that Marc, while a lover of all ingredients, has a special soft spot for meats. Because of his desire to work with small producers, he buys whole animals and butchers all of his own meat in-house, using scraps to make the house charcuterie. And he milks social media for all its worth when it comes to the half-heads of pig. He slow-cooks them to order, so to be sure that yours is ready and waiting for you, all you have to do is reply to the Tweet saying they’re available 6 hours before you’d like to come in and enjoy.
Marc opened an adjacent butchery called Boucherie Lawrence, to share his love of quality meats with Montreal home cooks.
Spike Gjerde: Repurposing... Everything
One of the main ideas behind this new wave of restaurateurs is avoiding waste, something that Baltimore’s Spike Gjerde has perfected. When he acquired a former tire shop and car storage operation, he knew exactly how he would use the garage doors and loading dock that came with the property – to transport whole animals inside. He can comfortably hang 16 head of steer in the butcher shop-cum-restaurant, which he dry-ages and serves up either at Parts & Labor or at his other related venues including Artifact Coffee and Shoo-Fly Diner.
Given the advantages of the space, it’s no surprise that Gjerde focuses almost entirely on meat; fish, poultry and vegetarian options are few and far between. In order to present the whole animal idea to skeptical or unfamiliar diners, Gjerde has come up with plates like “Varieties,” made with offal portions that are “generally overlooked,” seen as “delicacies that showcase our commitment to the whole animal” to be paired with one of 24 tap beers from small farm Maryland breweries.
If you enjoyed your meal at Parts & Labor, check out the butcher shop with fresh cuts, sausages and cured meats to further support local sustainable meat production.
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Image: Jon Sullivan