Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chefs and the Charcuterie Gap

By Cathy Barrow, Published: May 8 “Move with purpose, not to impress,” the chef begins his tutorial.   “A smooth arc, slicing in a clean motion. Move the knife away from yourself, to the right of your hip.” Exposing the pig’s shoulder, teasing a flexible blade against the bone, Jason Story sets his feet just so. To his left stands a tentative, wide-eyed, would-be apprentice.

It’s after-hours on a weeknight in early April at Three Little Pigs Charcuterie & Salumi, the new charcuterie in Petworth. Yet its spotless, cool workroom below hums with activity. The 27-year-old chef, who opened the small shop in March with his fiancee, chef Carolina Gomez, is midway through breaking down a 200-pound Old Spot from Evensong Farm in Sharpsburg, Md.

After the evening’s work, Story will spend days and weeks smoking, salting and curing pork and making sausage, as many of the world’s cultures have done for centuries. Although Story graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and has worked in more than a dozen restaurants, including Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, learning how to butcher a whole animal and how to transform its parts into these traditional foods was not part of his training. Those are skills he has learned on his own.

 “Nobody, not once, showed me how to do this,” he says, wiping the blade of his knife with a clean towel.

 While restaurant chefs enhance their menus with house-made, artisanal meats, culinary schools are just beginning to respond with the broader kind of training required. Most of the schools in the States educate students on the cuts of meat, portioning and buying, as well as garde manger, literally “keep to eat,” which includes pâtés and fresh sausages. But one chef said that a chicken was the only animal he learned to break down at culinary school; another said about 31 / 2 hours were devoted to learning those familiar charts of meat cuts.

Neither charcuterie nor whole-animal butchery garner much, if any, class time. At the CIA, certain instructors are known to add to the prescribed curriculum here and there. Should a group of students wish to study charcuterie, for example, they are likely to learn through experimentation as part of an unofficial “club,” with a faculty adviser looking on. When there is no such club, student chefs are left to create their own opportunities. And those, due to economics and demand, are few and far between.

There is an almost palpable need for comprehensive butchery education in this country. Smaller culinary schools, such as the Seattle Culinary Academy, are infinitely more nimble in responding to this, but budgetary restrictions limit their ability. Larger schools remain unable to significantly alter their long-established culinary curriculum without committee meetings and oversight. Chefs interviewed for this story who employ whole-animal butchery in their restaurants receive constant requests from new graduates and line chefs to assist, to work, to watch the butchery in action.

Read the complete story here.