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It was a six-act pork circus last night at Blackbird.
I'll probably be accused of some bias when I say our multicourse mulefoot aporkalypse was spectacular, but I was surrounded by exacting, discriminating eaters. After months and months of me telling them that this was a special pig--something you've never tasted before, really, you gotta believe me--70-some folks, friends and strangers, took the bait and put their money down for Slow Food Chicago. All I had to do was look around the room as they took their first bites of Jason Hammel's braised belly to know I wasn't crazy.
It certainly didn't hurt that Paul Kahan had assembled a formidable array of talented chefs to work on these animals. Most work directly for him (or had in the past), and as Mike Gebert and I followed them around over the last week, a palpable sense of family surrounded them. I couldn't have dreamed a better team, and I couldn't be more grateful to them for allowing us to stick our cameras over their shoulders and pester them with endless questions.
I'm going to save description of the prep work of these dishes for later, and let the attached photos of the talented Ron Kaplan do the talking for now. But I have to let you know that Valerie Weihman-Rock raised some incredible animals, who produced more meat than was needed. So if you wanted a seat at the table but missed out, you have a few chances to try some yourself. Brian Huston of The Publican has an extra porchetta he'll be running as a special tonight, along with a surplus of skin for chicharrones. Justin Large, whose head cheese whole-grain mustard ravioli en brodo was my favorite course, has two extra quarts of the filling he'll be using at Avec sometime during the next three days. And Mike Sheerin is going to be curing one of the hams--you'll have to wait about six months for that one, but I'll track its progress.
One of the objectives of the Whole Hog Project (it goes on!) is to take a good look at what it takes to produce real food. Does anything in these photos resemble a living, breathing animal? Of course not. But just five days ago three mulefoots were roaming wide open, green pasture, eating quackgrass, chicken eggs, corn, oats, alfalfa, goat's milk, and Swiss chard. On November 13, in our food issue, I'm going to write about exactly what happened on the way from the farm, to the slaughterhouse, to Blackbird's basement, and finally to the dining room. The chefs have promised to contribute recipes based on their courses, and at this moment Gebert is toiling away with hours of footage he shot for an accompanying Sky Full of Bacon video podcast.
You really need to see Mike Sheerin break down a pig. He's a surgeon.