The exposure to new ideas in food and reminders about tried and true methods make the Good Food Festival a great event. Even after ten years, I still gather a lengthly list of new foods to try, books to read, and culinary adventures to concoct in my kitchen. I also leave with a renewed sense of community from people — chefs, farmers, producers, and consumers — who care deeply about good food. This festival provides a road map to how to get what’s good.
Going Whole HogCo-author of Charcuterie and Salumi, Michael Ruhlman, opened class with a tribute to farmer Greg Gunthorp from Gunthorp Farms, and talked about the importance of farmers who raise animals humanely, “We should erect statues in their honor.” Ruhlman also stressed that the need to support the market for quality food is equally important, and lies in the hands of consumers who vote with their dollars, “Every time you buy shitty food, you are asking for more of it.” Indeed. Before he lifted a knife, Chef Brian Polcyn inspected the pig and asked questions about care of the animal, details of its diet, and how it had been exercised. It was interesting because over the course of the class, this minutia formed his decisions the cuts and how he would use the meat in dishes. Chef then set the table with the head, “I like to have the pig watch itself be butchered. Makes the meat more tender.”
Using only a knife and his cutting humor, he sliced one side of the hog into eight cuts (jowl, neck/shoulder/loin, shoulder, back fat, loin, tenderloin, belly, ham/back leg, leftovers for salami), taking about 40 minutes to get the most out of the animal and an additional 20 to answer questions and to talk through the finer points of butchering hogs.
He then used a USDA approved method that involved a bone saw to get four cuts of hog from the other half. The second method took just under four minutes but produced more waste and utilized less. In the end, each side will taste the same, but he pointed out that he would make far more money as a chef by butchering and curing his the hog using the first method.
I wouldn’t say I was ready to butcher by the end of the class, but my respect for the craft certainly increased.
Time for a drink. Or two.
The afternoon sessions both involved alcohol. Jeanette Dainty from NessAlla Kombucha and Derrick Mancini from Quincy Street Distillery joined forces with author Kevin West to talk about preserving fruits with alcohol and using them in cocktails. The samples alone made the session worth it, but I came away with the resolve to make green walnut liqueur (nocino) and shrubs at home. Kevin’s book, Saving the Season, is on track to become my new bible this spring when I start to make pickles, vinegars, jams, and liqueur.I’ve never considered making beer at home, but Brando Wright from Chicago Brew Werks has me convinced I can do it. Even if I never muster the gumption to brew, simply knowing the variations in each step the process as well as the freshness and provenance of the ingredients, gave me renewed appreciation for what commercial breweries are able to achieve. The class also gave me a better vocabulary to discuss beer, variations in process, and ultimately how to enjoy it more. If you have the opportunity, take a class with Brando.
Between classes, I took time to walk through the Good Food Commons and browse through the growing number of CSA’s, brands, and local Chicago food producers. I picked up packs of organic seeds, tried barbecue potato chip chocolates, and learned what I had been doing wrong with my compost (not enough moisture).
The Good Food Festival is already on my calendar for next year. And in the meantime, I have new tools to use to my own food experience even better. Did you go this year? I hope you’ll share what you loved!