Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The soul of a pig, day 2.

We meet in the kitchen of the restaurant that is hosting this three-day event, and who actually owns the six or seven pigs we slaughtered yesterday. There are urns of coffee and lots of snacks, but today we are focusing on something a bit more important: the organs. Soon the kitchen is in chaos, tubs of pigs' heads and hearts and livers, kidneys and slabs of lard. I find myself cleaning hearts, slicing them open, removing the large ventricles and any clots of blood, then moving on to kidneys with their translucent membranes that have to be carefully peeled away. Other people are carving the cheeks out of the heads and trimming livers.

The heads go into a pot to be boiled until all the meat slides off, and later I find myself picking through the steaming bones, stripping away every bit of meat and skin, discarding the eyeballs and any stray bits of bone. It's disgusting, particularly when I have to dig around for errant eyeballs to make sure that they won't wind up in the sausages. Can't have that in a high-class joint like this one. The meat is ground up for headcheese, which along with a gruesome (yet tasty) mixture of blood and various seasonings, grain, and for some sausages, chunks of tongue, is stuffed into plastic casings and lowered into sous-vide baths that look remarkably like the water baths we use in the lab for keeping reagents at the proper temperature. I feel like I am covered in a thin film of pig fat, although I wash my hands so often I probably won't have any skin left on them by the end of the day.

Lunch is an assortment of organ meats cooked in various ways, in two different soups and sautéed with onions and made into canapés served on bits of toast fried in olive oil. There are roasted ribs, impossibly slender and with barely any meat on them, but incredibly rich-tasting. There are salads and more cookies, and a taste of a prosciutto made in-house and aged for thirteen months. It is incredible. Everything is incredible. I have never eaten in this restaurant before, and unless I win the lottery, I probably won't ever again. But their attention to detail and their clear passion for what they do is unbelievable, from the owners to the head chef to every last member of the staff, and I feel very lucky to witness it.

It is an interesting group of people here, mostly professionals, and I am at once humbled and exhilarated to be amongst them. This is not some feel-good entertainment for yuppie foodies who smugly shop at farmer's markets and are hoping to find some spiritual salvation in watching a pig slaughter. These people are here to learn. There are the owners and chefs of the restaurant we are working in, of course, and various other chefs and owners of other restaurants around Washington state. There is a private chef from New Jersey who is planning on raising the pigs for the New York market, as well as a farmer who raises naturally pastured chickens and goats in Michigan (and soon these pigs as well), and a couple from the Bay Area who plan to start their own farm. They are focused, intense, and eager to try anything.

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