We carried the full Swabian Hall on our shoulders into Hughes Manor where the pop-up butcher shop would take place. The Houston Cochon555 crowd had just finished the chefs' competition where Manabu Horiuchi from Kata Robata took home the "W" for his six-course presentation highlighting Chubby Dog Farm's Mangalista Red Wattle Cross.
For those of you not familiar with Cochon555, this is a movement to preserve and promote heritage breeds of pork and family farming by hosting culinary events and chef competitions in the major cities across the US.
The pig was gently set down on the two joined Boos cutting tables which gave way to an eruption of iPhone cameras flashing and clicking - I’m sure not many of the onlookers had ever seen a full pig carcass before. To be honest, I’d never seen a pig carcass like this either so the first few cuts were a bit foreign to me. Most of the time, carcasses are split symmetrically down the backbone – making transport, storage, and butchery easier. To truly show the crowd of food enthusiasts what butchery is all about, I started with a complete eviscerated (minus the insides) pig carcass. I would also be without the use of a band saw – an extraordinarily precise tool when cutting through bones. In its place, a 27-inch bone saw would have to work through the bones manually. As a backup, I brought my vintage cleaver as well.
Brady Lowe, the founder of Cochon555, started the demo by telling a bit about the Piggy Bank, the focal point of all the fundraising that weekend. Piggy Bank has one simple goal in mind - helping family farmers. The organization is a dedicated to current or prospective farmers to help them get a kickstart: breeding stock, business plans, and other valuable business information - anything a pig farmer needs to get going.
Brady offered me the mic, I gave my short elevator pitch, and then dove in. Splitting a whole carcass manually wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be – I took off the hind legs first, split them, then did the same with the shoulders. The loin gave me a bit of trouble – it was long, and my saw blade only gave me about three to four inches to move.
Let me stop here to tell you about Houston's climate. If you haven't been there in the summertime, believe me when I say the heat and humidity are unbearable. Just before I took the stage, Houston received a summer shower followed by intense sunshine. The humidity ramped up and was so thick; I could have cut it with my cleaver. I was soaked in sweat. My shirt was sticking to my body, and little sweat beads covered my face. I had to step away several times to wipe my brow and get a swig of water.
But, back to my story... I was relieved the carcass breakdown was behind me, but quickly realized I would need a lot more help to break the primals down into shop cuts in the allotted time. Luckily, good friends, Catherine and Tito Manterola were waiting and jumped right in to help. Over the next hour, we cut, wrapped, and tagged the entire Swabian Hall for retail sale. Everything was on display: bones for stock, ears for dog treats, skin for soups - even the brains were snapped up for a saute.
I’m honored to have been apart of this year’s Cochon555 Houston. Brady and his amazing staff created an enjoyable gastronomic gathering. A special shoutout to:
Allegra - who personally helped coordinate the pop-up butcher shop. She was on her A game, and everything ran flawlessly.
Calvin and Karyn Medders - owners of Chubby Dog Farm, a Mangalista-heritage cross pork farm in Grapeland, Texas. I always enjoy the opportunity to talk to producers and learn so much from their stories and their passion for providing excellent quality food.
Jeff Weinstock - owner of Cake & Bacon, a small wholesale bakehouse and butchery commissary that delivers no-less-than-perfect breads, pastries, pies, charcuterie, sausage, pasture-raised products to restaurants and retailers throughout Houston. His display was covered in a wide variety of cured meats - the spiced coppa being my favorite.
Geoffrey and Renee Barry - of The Barry Farm in Needville, Texas who raise heritage Red Wattle. It was my pleasure to have met another passionate farmer here in South Texas.
Catherine - my publicist, my partner in crime for any culinary adventure, and the ultimate networker. She knows everybody and if she doesn't she will before the day is done!
Morgan Weber - A BIG shout out to Morgan Webber of Agricole Hospitality who got me hooked up with this sweet gig. I also had the chance to check out one of his Houston establishments, Coltivare, and it was an absolute blast. If you live in Houston and haven't eaten here, you need to rethink your life.