Rick Bayless's Frontera Raided by USDA; Bruce Sherman's North Pond Is Next

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Details remain sketchy, but I've heard from several different sources that USDA officials visited Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill/Topolobampo/Xoco complex today and forced workers there to dispose of some amount of meat. They also contacted North Pond chef Bruce Sherman and told him to expect a visit.

What do those two have in common besides being world-class chefs who procure and prepare some of the most ethically and environmentally responsible products available?

Here's what: I happened to mention both in my story about a pair of suburban stay-at-home dads who make and sell bacon and sausage without having proper USDA certification.

Mind you, I didn't say either restaurant was using products cured or smoked by the underground charcutiers, E & P Meats—they don't. I just said they shared a supplier—a farmer who raises his pigs naturally and has them slaughtered by a government-certified processor. There are stamps on the bellies to prove it. Representatives for both restaurants told me the feds raiders said that their action was prompted by the story.

I guess guilt-by-extremely-tenuous-association is enough to take the USDA'sofficials' minds off all those CAFOs and E. coli outbreaks. That's just what I'll have to sleep on till I get the government's side of the story.

UPDATE: Underground charcutiers E&P Meats announced this morning they were voluntarily ceasing operations in response to the USDA's actionsraid. Say they:

"In the next months we promise to work diligently to make our company legally operational. We will keep you informed of any new developments."

Nanny State: 2 Real food: 0

UPDATE: The folks at Frontera just told me the fedsraiders only made them get rid of one box of bacon that was missing its shipping label. They say there will probably be no fine.

UPDATE: Like I said, the details are sketchy. Both restaurants initially told me it was the USDA, but the USDA says it wasn't them. Frontera publicist Jen Fite now tells me the inspector was from the Illinois Department of Agriculture, but a spokesman from there says they don't do restaurant inspections. We're on the case; stand by.

UPDATE, WEDNESDAY, 3:30 PM Publicists from North Pond and Frontera Grill both told me they'd been dealing with the USDA, and it seemed reasonable to believe them and fair to post this news Tuesday night even though it was after hours and I couldn't confirm it with the feds.

But today, Wednesday, Dr. Colleen O'Keefe, Division Manager of Food Safety and Animal Protection for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said that the inspection was carried out by the state. According to O'Keefe, Frontera Grill was visited by a compliance officer from the state's Bureau of Meat and Poultry Inspection. She said that after reading my charcuterie story they wanted to make sure the meat being dropped off by the Wisconsin farmer (who also supplied E & P Meats) was federally inspected.

“We did find some uninspected product with no mark of inspection on it,” she said. “There was an invoice from a broker in Wisconsin." The total: 80 pounds of bacon and some headcheese, which did have a Wisconsin Ag Dept inspection mark on it but not a USDA one.

O'Keefe says Frontera will have to face a hearing to settle the matter.

But what about North Pond? Will they still be getting a visit from an inspector. “Maybe,” she said. “Maybe not.”

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