Interview with Chef Michael Fiorello - Mercat a la Planxa

December 2010

Francoise Villeneuve: How did you get into charcuterie?

Michael Fiorello: It was during my Garde Manger class at the CIA where I truly began to appreciate and understand the amazing craft of charcuterie. I love everything about it; the scientific approach, the mathematical ratios and the patience that is rewarded through time and testing.
FV: Where did you train?

MF: I trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. I have been privileged and fortunate to have worked with great chefs and mentors: Dominique Filoni, Jean-Marie Lacroix, Matthew Levin and Jose Garces.
FV:What supplier do you use for the meats in the charcuterie program? Is there more than one? br>
MF: I use multiple purveyors: JDY Meats, Chicago Game and Gourmet, Pasture to Plate.
FV: Do you try and get whole animals or does it come in in cuts?

MF: We use whole suckling pigs and suckling lambs, but most of our charcuterie is crafted from cuts.
FV: How much of your charcuterie is pork?

MF: 80%.
FV: Do you have a price range for different cuts?

MF: No, not really. I’ll use anything that I think I can cure, grind and stuff. I am lucky to have the financial means to use only the best product.
FV: What’s your best selling type of charcuterie

MF: Sliced hams and cured sausages.
FV: What charcuterie contributes the highest profit margin?

MF: I would have to go with lardo, which is cured fat. It’s cheap, but it transforms into something valuable and delicious when it is cured and aged.
FV: Are all the charcuterie you make profitable?

MF: Absolutely!
FV: What takes the most time, energy and labor?

MF: Sausages that are smoked—it’s a three-day process.
FV: Anything stand out as a winner in terms of food cost?

MF:The emulsified sausages are a winner. Simple meat, a lot of cheap fat, milk powder and a casing.
FV: How many different types of charcuterie do you have on the menu at any given time?

MF: 12.
FV: How does your menu feature the charcuterie? Is it on its own or mixed in with the menu?

MF: It has its own section, and we also feature housemade grilled sausage and beans in the meat section.
FV: How much do you smoke?

MF: Any chance I get.
FV: How much do you cure?

MF: There is always something brining, curing or smoking in my kitchen.
FV: Does the health department put a damper on charcuterie production in Chicago?

MF: Not at all for me.
FV: How do you decide which new items you’ll include?

MF: Whatever we decide is the best product.
FV: Anything interesting that you’re working on now?

MF: Two things: I am trying to perfect the chicken liver mousse; sous vide smoked lamb sausage “bricks.
FV: Do diners in Chicago go for the nasty bits?

MF: Sometimes, but ultimately it isn’t what sells here at the restaurant.