Greetings from The Kitchen!
The first signs of spring are in the air. Here and there, crocuses push their way through patches of snow, migratory birds reappear in our backyards, and gardeners sow their first seeds of the season. While fresh, local food crops are still nowhere to be seen, one gets the sense that they are just around the corner. For now, we continue to cook from our winter pantry. Last month, we made slow-roasted shoulder of pork and braised pork belly. We also sat down for tea with our local hog farmer and pork supplier John Long, visited a Boulder microbrewery, and had brunch with Dakota and Kelly, and their lovely daughter, Zaya.
Portrait [Staff]: Dakota and Kelly
They came from opposite ends of the country and met while working at San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe. Dakota Soifer and Kelly Roberts bring a broad knowledge of food and its sources to bear on the work they do — both in the front of the house and in the kitchen. They’ve shared some important years — professionally and personally — as part of The Kitchen family.
This spring, Dakota moves in as head chef in the [Upstairs] kitchen. In addition to maintaining his passionate focus at the grill and wood-fired oven, this position comes with the added challenges of organizing a staff and ordering food. With his roots in down-to-earth Maine, where growing your own vegetables and making the most of a short but rich local harvest is a necessity, Dakota is well suited to these demands. Food ordering at The Kitchen is not an easy ‘one stop shop’. It’s more about relationships with local farmers, and seeking out what makes the most sense — seasonally, locally, and in terms of sustainability.
Working at The Kitchen, Dakota and Kelly have learned a lot about the true cost of food. Quality ingredients — with real folks to back them up — do not, and should not, come cheap. The Kitchen could easily choose to order food from a single supplier, trimming down food cost, while maintaining a significant mark up. But this, Dakota says, would “compromise what we’re about and why we like working here.” Instead, high quality ingredients, which take time, effort, and know-how to acquire, are painstakingly laid in and then turned over to the skilled hands of the kitchen crew.
It’s an extended process, but one that Dakota was somewhat familiar with from working in several California restaurants. However, now he feels he’ll really be gaining the overall knowledge of how to run a restaurant like The Kitchen. Juggling menu planning with organizing a staff will prepare him for opening his and Kelly’s own restaurant in the not so distant future.
Both Dakota and Kelly have maintained their work schedule and commitment to The Kitchen during the arrival of their new baby, Zaya. This has worked for them because, as Kelly explains, “this is the best restaurant I’ve worked at — in terms of infrastructure.” The staff “have a profound respect for the business. It’s not all about making money,” she says. “People really enjoy their work and it shows.” Given this atmosphere of respect and real camaraderie, Kelly found working throughout her pregnancy not as intimidating as it might have been.
With all this experience, and the addition of Zaya in their lives, starting their own restaurant in Portland, Maine, is on the horizon. Portland is a larger community, close to family and to cities, with a tight network of farmers and food producers, all of which make it an ideal place for the couple to set their talents to work. But over the next year or two, we’ll continue to enjoy their expertise and enthusiasm for food and family.
Pork is the most generous of meats. Sausages, baked ham, bacon, pates, terrines, roasts, leftover hock to flavor a soup, and cured hams to slice thinly or use as the base of a sauce… It’s endless how many uses there are for the parts of a pig.
In the past a single pig would keep a family in pork for most of a year. Both it’s great variety of cuts and its efficiency made it an essential source of food. A pig converts scraps into more forms of protein in less time than other livestock. So you get a plethora of pork products from just one pig.
Historically, from China to Europe to early North America, pork was the staple meat. Pigs are easy to rear and cohabit well with humans: not only using our food waste, but performing important tasks on the farm, including routing and churning of compost piles and soil. On a small farm, the pig is the ultimate measure in recycling!
And, in turn, every part of the pig can be used, from ears to feet, from nose to tail. In his book, The Whole Beast, London restaurateur Fergus Henderson demonstrates this to a tee. He offers a host of traditional recipes that conjure a sense of nostalgia for anyone with a farm in their past — which is all of us!
These classic flavors deserve to be revived. Such a rich and intricate food as pork is best enjoyed by looking to tradition for guidance. While bacon and pork chops are great, they need not be for everyday. A curl of prosciutto on a flatbread, or a pork shoulder, roasted overnight (!) to melting perfection, as in The Kitchen’s Slow Roast Pork, are such worthwhile ways to enjoy other parts of the pig. And Braised Pork Bellies, brined with spices and roasted with sweet vegetables and apples, are something to get really excited about. Pork offers so many possibilities and flavors.
It’s this variety and substance that makes pork worth noticing in a climate where little local food is available in winter. Products that store well — that can be cured, salted, or frozen, or simply harvested year round — are especially valuable and appropriate to our terrain. That said, if you’re going to the trouble of brining, curing, sausage stuffing, and roasting for twelve hours, (or simply eating these delectables) you want a product that’s worth it. And that’s one that was raised conscientiously. Why? Because pork shows its origins. In flavor, texture and color, well-raised pork is worth its weight in gold.
Profile [Producer]: John Long
“Jerry, don’t be comin’ out here blowin’ smoke up my rear…” John Long may have a reputation for telling jokes to chefs receiving his deliveries, but in other circles, he is notorious for confronting pesky inspectors, chasing county agents off his land, and speaking his mind in front of the National Pork Producers Council. “The ag policy of this country is such a complete disaster,” John says, and he has put up a fight to continue to raise pigs the way he thinks is right. And when out-of-towners from North Carolina, where barbeque reigns supreme, taste John’s pork and exclaim “that’s the best-tasting pork chop I’ve ever had,” John must be doing something right.
John grew up in North Dakota, and raised his first pigs as part of his local 4-H group. After studying Animal Science at North Dakota State University, he enrolled in a Ph.D. program at Ohio State. But John soon realized that lab benches and office desks weren’t for him, and he left with a master’s in Ruminant Nutrition. “I’m essentially a biochemist,” he says. Following several years in the cow business (“always my favorite thing”), John transitioned to hogs, and bought his first hog farm in Nebraska.
An opportunity to enter into a partnership and purchase 12 hog farms in the northeastern part of Colorado brought John to Eaton in 1990. The 12 farms kept about 5,000 breeding sows, and raised more than 76,000 pigs a year. John had grand plans to convert the operations into all-natural programs, but a pivotal change in policies regulating livestock production put an end to his way of raising hogs.
Historically, meatpackers (i.e. slaughterhouses) could take ownership of livestock for no more than 24 hours before the animals were killed. But once they could own pigs, they gained complete control of the animals, and the farmers who raised them. “There are two kinds of producers,” John was told at a National Pork Producers conference. “The haves and have-nots. And if you don’t have a contract, you’re going to be a have-not.”
“That was the absolute worst thing that ever happened to production agriculture,” John says of the change in regulations. Reluctant to submit to the meatpackers’ idea of how hogs ought to be raised, he downsized. Today, John has two of the 12 original farms owned by the partnership, 124 acres in all.
John maintains a manageable herd of six boars and about 35 sows — Durocs, Large Whites, and a breed of Landrace. The sows give birth to two litters a year, and except while nursing, the pigs live outdoors on an all-natural diet of wheat, millet and soybean meal that John mixes himself. In fact, John does all the work himself. “I am the only employee my wife has, “ he says.
To protect his pigs from transmissible diseases, he keeps a closed herd — all piglets are born to his own sows and boars, right on his farm. “I don’t think it ever loses its appeal when you go out and see a new batch of pigs,” he says of the little ones, and chuckles as he describes the piglets devouring over-ripe peaches he brings back from the farmers’ market.
Once a week, John takes some of his pigs to a small, family-owned and operated (and USDA inspected) slaughterhouse in nearby Kersey. The owner, Jay, can process a maximum of 15 pigs per week. John has a standing order for ten. On Wednesdays, he picks up the meat, and personally delivers it to his customers.
For nine years, John enjoyed rubbing shoulders and telling jokes at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market. But since last summer, he’s been sorely missed. “I have such a difficult time getting stuff processed for the market,“ he explains. Without any other USDA-inspected slaughterhouses nearby that take pigs, John is limited to what Jay can process. “ I can’t go to 20,” he says with regret.
The lack of small yet approved slaughterhouses makes John the only pork-producer in the state who is working on a small scale. And that, he thinks, is a bad sign. “What’s happening in production agriculture is absolutely not sustainable,” he repeats, pounding his fist on the table.
After our conversation, John still has one more joke to tell. “This can’t go in the newsletter, but it’s one of the best ones I’ve heard in a long time.” The rest is off the record.
Event: Avery Brewing Company
On a recent foray into our foodshed, we accompanied friends from the Boulder Wine Merchant to a private tour and tasting at Boulder’s Avery Brewing Company. We were welcomed into the tasting room by Peter Archer — described on Avery’s website as a landlocked surfer from Sidney, Australia. Peter wasted no time handing out pint glasses and pouring a taste of the first beer on tap — White Rascal, a Belgian-style wheat beer, spiced with coriander and orange peel.
With more than 20 beers in the day’s line-up, Peter kept everyone on pace while providing the history of each beer, comparing tasting notes, and explaining IBUs and alpha acids (in case you’re curious, IBUs are International Bitterness Units, a measure of bitterness of the beer; alpha acids are bittering compounds found in hops).
Avery Brewing Co. has been family owned and operated since 1993, and the Averys have won several awards for their brews. We tasted a range of styles, from Avery’s top-selling IPA (Avery was the first brewery in Colorado to Package IPA) to the nutty Ellie’s Brown, named after Adam Avery’s chocolate labrador retriever. “She’s made with chocolate malt,” Peter explained, affectionately.
An avid cook, Peter had food pairings in mind for all the brews. The citrus notes of White Rascal make it “phenomenal with fish,” and great in beer batters, while the IPA is “without a doubt the best pizza beer on the market.”
Avery beers are knows for their clean, crisp flavor profiles, and Peter took us on a tour of the facilities to explain how these are achieved. Unlike most breweries that use a single strain of yeast for all their brews, Avery uses no fewer than five strains year-round. Most batches of yeast are used more than once, but always in a particular order. “The flavor profile of the second generation is always different from the first,” Peter explained.
Almost all Avery beers are filtered. Removing the yeast improves appearance and prolongs shelf life. White Rascal is a bit of an anomaly for Avery: It’s their only spiced ale — a giant tea strainer full of spices is lowered into the kettle. “It’s the nicest day to be in the brew house,” says Peter. “It smells like breakfast… like tea and marmalade and porridge.” The yeast for White Rascal is used only once, and must be ordered fresh every time White Rascal is brewed. And, White Rascal remains unfiltered, leaving the yeast to continue to impart its aromas after bottling.
Some of the most exciting beers we tasted were those aged in wood barrels. With help from their friends at Russian River Brewing Company in Northern California, Avery has obtained a handful of used wine, port and bourbon barrels. Each one lends its unique aromas to the beer aged within, resulting in truly complex, aromatic and unusual brews. For now, the barrel experimentation is simply for their own benefit, to see what they can do, but they plan on having 100 used barrels by the end of the year.
Back in the tasting room, Peter brought out what he called Avery’s “big beers,” ranging from 9% to 18% percent alcohol. The big beers included Hog Heaven, a barleywine-style ale, made with 7.5 lbs of hops per barrel (compare that to one pound per barrel in a standard American pale ale), and Collaboration Not Litigation Ale, the result of collaboration with Russian River Brewing Co. (both breweries had plans for a Salvation Ale, and decided to join forces rather than fight for the right to the brew; the resulting blend of ales is quite harmonious, and on tap [Upstairs] at The Kitchen).
We ended the tasting with Avery’s “Demons of Ale” — the darkest and strongest of the big beers. The descriptors began flying: toffee, maple syrup, Caribbean rum, dates, plums, raisins, and even chocolate-covered cherries were detectable. These beers, enjoyed in small amounts, could pair wonderfully with rich and spicy desserts.
Avery Brewing Company welcomes anyone (of drinking age) to come visit and taste. With their new, expanded hours Wednesday – Saturday, there are plenty of opportunities to get to know a local microbrewery, learn about the brewing process, and taste some exceptional beers.
Stories by China Tresemer and Veronica Volny. © 2008. All rights reserved.