The Art and Economics of Charcuterie
Written by Amanda McDougall and JJ Proville; video and photos by Antoinette Bruno
In-house charcuterie programs have experienced exponential growth over the past two years. It is arguably the biggest and most far-reaching trend we’ve seen—bordering on an all out culinary movement. US Chefs are learning the craft—from old school/Old World techniques to more modern ones—and developing their own programs large and small.
With this in mind, we’ll be publishing a multi-part charcuterie series that looks at several different operations, but all run by chefs with a penchant for curing and aging all sorts of animal parts with a goal of bringing in some serious revenue for their restaurants.
Zach Allen and his Vegas salumi operation—not to mention his oversight of all of Batali’s dozen other restaurant salumi programs—was the first in this series of features. The second in the series took a look at how Chef John Toulze of the girl and the fig (restaurant, café, and catering) and Estate works his brand of charcuterie into his two restaurants and catering operation. In this edition Seattle’s Adam Stevenson of Earth & Ocean at W Seattle discusses his charcuterie program from a hotel chef perspective (see below). The fourth piece goes small-scale with El Dorado Kitchen chef Justin Everett’s charcuterie on-a-shoestring.
Chef Adam Stevenson started his salumi-making like many do: in school grinding meat and fat for fresh sausage. But these days Stevenson has elevated his humble meat grinding beginning to a full-scale charcuterie production that supplies the various F & B outlets of the W Seattle hotel, including Earth & Ocean restaurant. Although Stevenson is afforded particular advantages that most chefs don’t have (a spacious kitchen facility, multiple walk-ins, a decent budget, and steady hotel clientele) that doesn’t mean he isn’t faced with other charcuterie challenges.
A steady stream of business travel patrons at the hotel translates to a constant flow of dining guests through Earth & Ocean and for in-room dining—no doubt a good thing. But this crowd isn’t into adventurous eating—tongue, blood sausage, and headcheese aren’t crowd pleasers here. It’s what Stevenson calls the cringe factor amongst his charcuterie-shy customers.
Consequently Stevenson orders nearly whole pigs from a local farm that picks and raises two pigs just for him for slaughter and delivery every two months. The animals arrive in his kitchen broken down into sections—and sans head, offal, and other nasty bits for which he has no venue.
From the time of the pigs’ arrival, Stevenson’s marathon meat magic begins. His salumi production becomes a big kitchen priority, and balancing that with his usual restaurant and hotel demands is a huge undertaking—that constant flow of hotel customers doesn’t let up, pigs or no pigs to process. The chef’s next priority is to make up for the big expense he’s just paid out for those two fine animals (roughly $3,000 to $4,000). Loins and other fresh cuts are put on the menu and sold in short order to help recuperate some of the cost immediately.
Despite the stress of processing 500 to 600 pounds of meat every other month, Stevenson likes the idea of getting those nearly-whole animals and the advantages of paying a flat rate per pound ($6 to $6.50/pound): It means no matter the cut or cure, his cost is always the same—from that $30 dish with fresh loin to the 12-month cured prosciutto he sells for roughly $40 a pound. It’s simple economics for Stevenson’s salumi art.
Read the interview with Stevenson to learn more about how he handles his charcuterie operation from a hotel chef’s
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