One Steer at a Time: Exploring Whole Animal Utilization on the Seacoast
Some might remember the popular television series Portlandia poking fun at the new trend of Farm to Table dining. A couple visited a small restaurant and began to inquire about every aspect of their potential chicken’s life all the way down to that chicken’s name. That was three years ago.
We would like to introduce you to George. George is a Scottish Highland Steer from Miles Smith Farm, born and raised on the Great Bay. The Edible Staff were introduced to him Thursday night, as he was carefully cut down into pieces by Evan Mallett, Chef/Owner of the Black Trumpet Bistro.
Whole animal butchery on the Seacoast is still relatively new, but not unheard of. Moxy, Stages, Thistle Pig, and Blue Moon Evolution will often get in whole goats, sheep, and rabbits. They even break down half or whole pigs from time to time. It saves on costs and lets the chef dictate which cuts he will get and use.
A whole steer, in the case of George at the Black Trumpet, is unheard of for a restaurant. Maine MEat in Kittery works with whole sizable livestock, but their model allows for that with room to butcher and hang meat as needed.
“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,” says Mallett in his Black Trumpet Blog
Large areas of our country have been labeled as “food deserts” in recent years. We have a unique opportunity on the New Hampshire Seacoast; our chefs work with not only farmers, but also with one another to avoid the waste of any products. Yet, there is an inherent truism of the restaurant model that allows for waste. A chef or restaurateur can only estimate the exact number of customers that will walk through their door on any given night, and those customers expect diversity and choices. Under the standard modern restaurant model, there will always be waste. The Seacoast is lucky to have chefs that are beginning to turn their back to that model and explore sustainability.
“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,” says Mallett. “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.”
We at Edible Seacoast witnessed the dawn of something special and new as we watched each piece of George thoughtfully broken down. Mallett has relinquished control to the meat - George will dictate what is to be served on a given night.
“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,” says Mallett. “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.”
The Black Trumpet intends to explore a new model of serving meat. They will be adding a dish dedicated to a whole animal, starting with George, utilizing every part until that animal has been completely consumed. Mallett plans to gradually move through all cuts of the animal until it is time to bring in and process another whole steer.
This is a next step in a regional movement honoring both farmer and animal. We will just have to wait and see who follows suit.
To read more from Evan Mallett and his One Steer at a Time Program visit the Black Trumpet Blog: Table Zero.