5 Innovative Meat Masters Discuss Trends
Culinary Leaders from Coast to Coast Talk About What to Expect Next
On an average weekend at Frontier, a casual eatery in Chicago’s trendy West Town neighborhood, the main dining room is jam packed. Among the diners are at least of couple of tables filled with groups celebrating special occasions. It could be a bachelor party or someone reveling in a milestone birthday, but they’ve decided on Frontier because they wanted this affair to be memorable and unconventional.
They’re readying themselves for a special guest—one who’s certain to upstage the real guest of honor—with phones in hand to capture the moment Chef Brian Jupiter arrives at their table. When he arrives, it’s in dramatic fashion as he wheels out a roasted goat, alligator, wild boar or lamb.
For diners, the whole animal service is a sight to behold as Frontier’s chefs wield oversized cleavers and blades to carve the animals tableside. It’s a concept Jupiter never imagined would catch on so quickly, but it has and it is now half of the restaurant’s business.
“We never expected our whole-animal feasts to get as big as they did,” says Jupiter. “Nose-to-tail and farm-to-table offerings were already out there (when we first opened several years ago), but we didn’t see anyone presenting animals in their entirety.”
He says they started offering whole-roasted pigs, lambs and goats, but as demand increased, he entertained the idea of offering bolder choices like alligators, wild boar and antelope. For smaller groups, he’s pared down portions, offering whole beef shanks, boar shoulders or antelope, venison or goat legs. Thus far, they have also been a grand success, and he credits the whole-animal program as a way of connecting diners to their food and the earth.
“They have so many farm-related questions now,” Jupiter says. “They want to know exactly where on the animal the cuts come from. What farms did the animals come from? How long does it take to cook them?”
Joe Magnanelli says he’s never been one to follow trends, but his quarterly “Beast Feast” suppers help support local farmers and educate the public about the importance of locally sourced ingredients.
“The nose-to-tail movement has been coming to the surface in the past two to three years,” says Magnanelli, the executive chef at Urban Kitchen Group, which owns a collection of San Diego restaurants, including Cucina Urbana, Cucina Enoteca and Cucina Sorella.
“They have so many farm-related questions now,” Chef Brian Jupiter says. “They want to know exactly where on the animal the cuts come from. What farms did the animals come from? How long does it take to cook them?”
“In my circle, chefs have been doing more hands-on stuff than ever before, like making their own charcuterie. Locally sourcing things are very important, so this is something I can get behind.”
Magnanelli’s “Beast Feast” dinners started off as whole-pig dinners, then evolved into suppers featuring goats, ducks and crustaceans. The more inquisitive his guests, the more he can push the boundaries with offerings. It’s also helpful when farmers attend the events to answer questions about their livestock.
“The whole idea is to present the whole animal during dinner and use as many parts as possible,” explains Magnanelli. “These animals gave up their lives so we can eat them and we shouldn’t take that for granted.”
Magnanelli prides himself on building strong relationships with local farmers and he adds that as more chefs do the same, they will be rewarded with superior products. “The more you have a relationship with a farmer, the more they may cater to your needs,” he advises.
The country’s ultimate beast feast is a multi-city touring event called Cochon555, founded by hospitality industry veteran Brady Lowe. His nonprofit organization showcases this nose-to-tail extravaganza that’s dedicated to supporting family farmers and educating chefs and diners about the agricultural importance of utilizing heritage breed pigs.
It travels to Chicago, Houston, New York, San Francisco and other major cities, but when the glamorous, gastro-fueled fetes are over, farmers still need help. That’s what inspired Lowe to launch Piggy Bank, which offers free support to small family farmers who want to get into the heritage breed pig business.
“(Piggy Bank) provides business plan genetics to those new farmers and existing farmers by creating a marketplace of exchange,” explains Brady. “Year after year, if you give away 600 piglets for 100 business plans, after the course of five years, that’s a lot of business plans and a lot of pigs out there with new farmers. The goal is to get new people in the game and if a farmer has a devastation, we step in with support.”
“The nose-to-tail movement has been coming to the surface in the past two to three years,” says Joe Magnanelli, the executive chef at Urban Kitchen Group
Houston native Felix Florez is an avid supporter of Cochon555, and he was instrumental in bringing the tour to his town. Through his company Black Hill Meats, Florez humanely raises and slaughters heritage breed pigs, then distributes them to customers throughout Texas and other southeastern states.
While business has improved significantly since he launched the company in 2010, he believes it will get even better once chefs and consumers fully embrace operations like his.
“Spreading awareness is the most important thing we can be doing right now because it’s just not something people understand,” says Florez, who is also a partner at Houston’s locally focused Ritual, which features an on-site butcher’s shop diners may observe through transparent glass.
“What I do now is go to different dinners and functions and schools and I teach people about heritage breeds. I tell people why these things cost more and what the benefit is to your health.”
His next steps are raising funding for an on-site slaughterhouse and opening more restaurants “where everything is sustainable and everything is local.”
“I think it’s something that we take a lot of pride in when we’re buying farms out of their livestock.” – Lee Chizmar, owner/chef of
Mr. Lee’s and Bolete
A tiny noodle shop called Mr. Lee’s in Bethlehem, Pa. goes through a whole heritage pig in a week. And in its first year, says owner/chef Lee Chizmar, they used more than 60 pigs for various ramen dishes. That’s something he never anticipated when he opened his second restaurant, but he’s elated that he’s bringing much-needed business to his area’s farms. Chizmar and his team flex their butchery skills by using all parts of the whole animals they order.
“It’s so cool to be using so much local product that comes from the Lehigh Valley,” says Chizmar, who also owns farm-to-table concept Bolete. “I think it’s something that we take a lot of pride in when we’re buying farms out of their livestock.”
His restaurants aren’t exactly in the heart of culinary central (they’re an hour outside of New York City and Philadelphia), but he is bringing his clientele into the fold. With the constant images of celebrity chefs whipping up gourmet dishes on Food Network shows, many people are ready to experiment.
“They’re so hungry for it,” says Chizmar. “They’re like, ‘Hey, can we try sweetbreads?’ or if we put frog legs or snails on the menu, it is just amazing the response we get from our guests. People are excited to try something new and see you do different things with the animals.”
Though it annoys him that the farm-to-table concept has gotten too commercialized, he hopes it inspires culinary leaders to appreciate food in its natural state.
“’Farm to table’ is just getting tossed around so much, but it’s almost an honesty and integrity thing where you’re doing things the way you’re supposed to do them,” says Chizmar. “That starts with farmers raising their products the right way, then we get them and in a way you don’t want to do anything to mess them up. You just want the integrity of the product to speak for itself.”